Interview: In Conversation with SEO Veteran Michael Martinez
Michael started building and promoting websites in 1996 and took interest in SEO later in 1998. Being one of the pioneers in the SEO industry, he has served as a moderator in several SEO forums. He has spoken at various workshops and conferences including the SMX. He has been a contributor to many reputable blogs including Reflective Dynamics blog and The SEO Theorist. He also writes for the popular SEO Theory Blog.
Michael has also consulted with hundreds of clients over the years. During the period of 2006-2010, he worked with Visible Technologies Inc as Director of Search Strategies. Later, he joined Quinstreet Inc as Senior SEO Manager in 2011.
In 2012, Martinez co-founded Reflective Dynamics, a web marketing and consulting company with Randy Ray and he is the current President of the company.
In this interview, Michael talks about Penguin 3.0, App SEO, Google’s push for https and more. We hope you enjoy reading it.
Kavin Paulson: Hi Michael, thank you so much for taking time for the interview out of your busy schedule. Please tell us more about yourself.
Michael Martinez: I have almost 40 years’ experience in the computer programming field, as well as many years’ experience working as a freelance writer (not including all the blogging I do). My avocations include travel, science fiction and fantasy, science, dancing, music, and movies. All of these interests have contributed value to my work in search engine optimization and Website promotion.
KP: Tell us more about Reflective Dynamics.
MM: My partner Randy Ray and I run a small agency offering search engine optimization consulting and Website development services. We take on large and small consulting clients and have advised some interesting technology companies. About half of our clients only come to us for growing traffic (as opposed to recovering from penalties and downgrades). We have assisted some sites with Panda recovery strategies. We don’t do as much work for Penguin-affected sites as we originally thought we might. To be honest, I’m not enthused about most Penguin recovery strategies.
KP: How different is SEO Theory from other SEO blogs? Tell us one reason why someone should read SEO theory regularly.
MM: Theory is the process of explaining how a system works. SEO Theory seeks to understand and explain the observable parts and processes of the Searchable Web Ecosystem. It’s not about reverse-engineering algorithms or finding the best ranking strategies. We need a blog like SEO Theory to help people see why they continue to fail as well as why they manage to succeed. What really works is often far-removed from what people believe is working. I don’t have all the answers; it’s my part to ask as many questions as possible, and that is what irritates many people. When you ask questions and point out the flaws in their reasoning they feel personally denigrated or threatened, although that is never my objective. If you keep following the happy-go-lucky people who are always excited about the latest SEO gimmickry, you’ll follow them from one penalty to the next. Theory has no emotional trigger. It doesn’t need to be popular or excited.
People should read SEO Theory because it strives to be a sanity check against egregious marketing claims.
KP: You took part in the SEO survey that we conducted recently. In your response you make a point that switching over to HTTPS is ‘needless’ and in one of your recent articles too you strongly advise people not to move their sites to HTTPS for SEO and you also give some valid reasons. Do you think Google will really strengthen the ‘HTTPS’ ranking factor in the future (Google says “But over time, we may decide to strengthen it”) or is it just tokenism aimed at driving more people to move their sites to HTTPS?
MM: Googlers only barely acknowledge the failure of HTTPS to prevent massive man-in-the-middle attacks, or to protect user data (which it cannot because the data is unencrypted after every transmission and stored in databases that are constantly being probed by hackers). They just don’t ever seem to look beyond their geeky excited interest in the minutiae. If there is one thing Google is really bad at, it is seeing the big picture.
Using HTTPS to protect user data on the Internet is equivalent to defending the bridges on a long highway while leaving the majority of the road unprotected. What’s the point?
If they succeed in persuading 70-80% of the Web to convert to HTTPS, then the playing field will be levelled for most sites regardless of how much of a boost Google gives to HTTPS-based content in the SERPs. All the promised SEO value will wash out as white noise in the signals. So, again, what’s the point?
Maybe the people at Google have a hidden agenda with HTTPS, but if so they will only look worse if that agenda is ever revealed because right now people trust their advice and judgment and learning there was a hidden agenda would lead people to mistrust Google’s judgment on technical stuff.
KP: What is the next big thing in SEO?
MM: Link building, in my opinion, is about to rebound in a big way. Google has made this possible by apparently automating the Penguin algorithm. There are two reasons why that should lead to a new burst in aggressive linking across the monetized Web.
First, people have gotten over their initial shock of being downgraded by Penguin. They know what that is like and they have been coping with it. Although some people complain they never recovered their traffic from Penguin, a lot of these complainers run multiple Websites and they just jump from one site to the next to start making money again. A lot of links went online while the world was waiting for Penguin 3.0. So Penguin is less intimidating now than it was a year ago.
Second, now that Google says Penguin will continually roll out new data people will just turn the links on and off until they find whatever the algorithm is targeting. Google just made it easier to spam its index (again). I think the Web spam and mainstream Web marketing communities will be much happier with link building now that Penguin seems to be running the store.
Of course, a lot of the companies that were buying the links are now gun-shy so it may take a while for the affiliate marketers to ramp up their search visibility to the point where everyone else decides (again), “What the heck, THOSE GUYS are getting away with it …”
It may be 2018 or later before we see a new revolution in anti-linking efforts from the major search engines. It could take that long for things to heat up again to where action is required.
KP: What is the one thing that you like and dislike about the SEO industry?
MM: What I like about the SEO industry is that it has attracted some really smart people (like Shari Thurow, Bryson Meunier, Bill Hunt, and Bill Slawski to name a few) who make life interesting with their ideas and innovations.
What I dislike about the SEO industry is that too many dumb people are leading the industry. They just don’t know what they are doing in terms of managing search risk. These people become successful because their confidence and personalities impress enough people to buy whatever they are selling, not because they understand search. If they were really that good they would never have led the industry into the arms of Pandas, Penguins, Paydays, and Page Layout downgrades.
KP: A few words about Penguin 3.0.
MM: Penguin 3.0 is potentially Google’s worst algorithmic mistake in 10 years, but that will come down to whether people realize what Google has done to itself. I know certain elements in the “black hat” Web spam community are already celebrating. I guess it just depends on whether the people on the SEO conference circuit figure out what happened and take advantage of it. They’ll be the ones to bring the masses back to the Church of the Unrighteous Link. And I think the masses are almost ready to go back anyway. A lot of people miss their magic links.
KP: Your thoughts on App SEO.
MM: Up until recently I thought apps might be the wave of the future but some recent developments in (for lack of a better expression) “blended content technology” have given me pause to think. Apps are probably just Generation One of an alternative platform (to traditional Websites). Generation Two is going to bring together several unexpected factors:
1. Web platforms are becoming more app-like.
2. App platforms are becoming more Web-like.
3. Search engines are starting to realize that apps and Websites can and SHOULD be mixed together, because to a mobile use there is really no difference. It’s all happening on the same small screen.
So even though people are just now starting to think about how to optimize for app search, the rules will probably change in 2015. We are on the edge of a cold front moving into a lot of warm, moist air.
KP: Where do you see Google five years from now?
MM: Fighting off even more legal challenges and threats of governmental regulation than they are now. The larger Google becomes, the more it involves itself in non-search technology, the more people and companies that will feel threatened. In time history will repeat itself and Google will bring about its own downfall.
In terms of “search” I think Google is struggling to hold on to the edge. They have succeeded in spite of themselves mostly because their competition has dropped the ball more times than people can count.
The last iteration of Altavista had a superior algorithm to Google’s, but the Altavista name and technology had changed owners too many times. No one with any real understanding of what they had was left involved with the company. So Yahoo! acquired Altavista for its brand value and did absolutely nothing with what was then the best search technology (from a user’s point of view).
Bing also had a superior technology at one point, but they squandered their opportunity by being too elitist. Instead of indexing a lot of lower-quality content like Google does Bing did its best to clean out the gunk. And they did a damned good job, which left Webmasters unwilling to support them. The worst mistake Bing made was to discontinue its old site search tool in 2011. That was the secret sauce for any Website that wanted to build up a lot of Bing traffic, because if your listings did not get clicks (from Bing.com) they were dropped from the SERPs. You cannot leverage Bing that way today.
What everyone fails to see is that it’s the small Webmaster that makes or breaks a service. Amazon frustrates Wall Street because the company keeps losing mony, but it’s still the largest online retailer in the world. How did it get to be that big? By creating an incredible affiliate program that anyone and everyone can join (eventually followed by integrating learning algorithms into their ecommerce platform). In 1998 every little Website out there was adding Amazon affiliate links to their pages; this was at a time when most of the big name retailers wouldn’t talk to anyone with fewer than 1,000,000 visitors a month. Amazon buried those guys.
Whoever wants to topple Google from the throne of search only has to do one thing: win the hearts and minds of millions of small Webmasters. By the time Google realizes they have lost that support base it will be too late.
KP: If you could change one thing about Google, what would that be?
MM: I would require them to put more experienced people in charge of their programs. They make immature, short-sighted decisions and often they are just reckless and irresponsible. Google has abandoned a lot of initiatives that just went nowhere; it’s like they want to learn from failure but they don’t know how to. Google has yet to introduce a money-making innovation. People forget that Google was not the first company to successfully monetize search (or the Web).
They need maturity more than anything else; but the people most likely to have developed that maturity while working at Google have been leaving.
KP: If you were not an SEO, what would you have been?
MM: I would probably still be a computer programmer if a bizarre situation had not happened at the company where I was last employed in IT. The entire senior management team walked off the job. The next two weeks were complete madness as previously junior employees made power grabs in every direction. My new boss (who came “down” from the parent company) was an idiot and after putting up with his nonsense for a few months I left the company, too. By that point jobs requiring my kind of software background were declining rapidly (there is about a 10-year life-cycle for most software skills; I was lucky to stay involved longer than that). If I could have stayed with that company under better management I would probably be there now.
KP: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
MM: Facing new challenges, whether in this career or the next.
KP: How would you describe yourself in one word?
KP: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
MM: I am always changing myself. I do that because I am never satisfied with what I have accomplished or become. I can always do better.
KP: On a lighter note, what would you do if you woke up one morning and found out that you had become Matt Cutts?
MM: Teach the Google Web spam team a few new tricks.
KP: Thank you so much Michael. It was great talking to you and all the very best for your future endeavors.
MM: Thank you. I’ll see you in the SERPs.