An Interview with Todd Malicoat on SEO Consulting

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Friday, November 10, 2006

An Interview with Todd Malicoat on SEOSitting in with me today to share his incredible insider point-of-view on search engine optimization, online marketing, and the importance of link development is none other than independent marketing consultant Todd Malicoat. Some of you will know him as Stuntdubl. Todd is a well known expert in the field of Internet marketing and has worked for some very reputable companies.

An Interview with Todd Malicoat on SEO

Todd Malicoat aka Stuntdubl created a retail site in 1997 that failed miserably. Todd earned a bachelors of business administration from Northwood University in 2003, but learned most about the world of SEO from many of the conferences as both an attendee and speaker for Webmasterworld Pubcon and Search Engine Strategies.

Sitting in with me today to share his incredible insider point-of-view on search engine optimization, online marketing, and the importance of link development is none other than independent marketing consultant Todd Malicoat. Some of you will know him as Stuntdubl. Todd is a well known expert in the field of Internet marketing and has worked for some very reputable companies throughout his 5 - 9 year career.

I am very excited to be interviewing Todd, as he is, in my opinion, one of the brightest minds in our industry, and is very knowledgeable when it comes to marketing websites. I'm a long time reader of his Stuntdubl Blog, which features some very informative insights on web development and marketing, and would definitely recommend it to anybody looking for ways to improve-on their own marketing efforts.

Interview with Todd Malicoat

Hi Todd, welcome to my blog. I am a pretty big fan of the posts, articles, and resources you provide, and I am very excited to be doing this interview. Thank you for taking the time away from your very busy schedule to come and chat.

Hey Karl, I hope this makes for an interesting read for folks.

First things first. Your website's slogan "...Getting Hit By Traffic... Not By Cars" is definitely one of the better ones I've ever come across in this business. What's the story behind it and the "Stuntdubl" alias?

I really wish I had a cool answer for this, but unfortunately I don't. My younger brother who looks strikingly similar to me was in a band, and I always joked that if they made it to the big-time, I could be his stunt-double. It kind of stuck with me, as I needed an alter-ego for my terrible scratch DJ remixes - it carried over from there to WebmasterWorld, and then at my first conference in February of 2004 (Orlando PubCon) - I realized more people knew me by my nickname, than by my real name - I registered my domain and started blogging on the site shortly after that.

Chris Pirillo chided me once that I must have been web 2.0 before it's time by dropping the consonant. The truth is that I just liked to be a little different, and the mis-spelling seemed cool at the time, since I was also "dubbing" a lot of music to CD's.

Very interesting, Todd. When and how did you first get started in search? Was their a definitive event that set you on course?

I don't think there was a real definitive day for me to be honest, that I just woke up and said "now I'm an SEO". My first realization that SEO was fun and somewhat easy was buying my first link for "seo services" on a big high profile site, and ranking for it shortly after. I figured it had to be a somewhat desirable phrase (though in retrospect an SEO "vanity" phrase), and I was excited to have figured out how to get it. To me, that's a big part of what SEO is - the inquisitive nature to find out what works, and then poke at it for fun or profit. Of course, I kind of like Dave Naylor's definition from threadwatch as well "knowing what the search engines want and giving it to them... so hard they f*cking bleed". :)

I actually cut my teeth on SEO, spending near obsessive amounts of time reading webmasterworld in early 2002. I had been dabbling in design and development (albeit not doing it real well) for several years before that, so I was familiar with most of the terminology, and fascinated by how to rank high on the search engines. It was especially fascinating because I had created an ecommerce site with a friend that failed miserably, and I could never understand why. That drove me to learn a lot more as well.

I was just about finished with my 7+ year (attending part-time) business degree shortly after, and got a job with an IT company in Michigan called SAMSA, who had an amazing owner who believed in my pitch. I was lucky to have spent that time with a great group who believed in me, and they maintain some solid rankings to this day. During my time at SAMSA, I was forced to develop an "SEO sales pitch" that I thankfully rarely have to practice. Luckily, my SEO services were always something I strongly believed was valuable. After demonstrating it over time, I've been lucky enough to no longer have to preach the virtues of SEO, like I did back then. The experience really helped me to understand business owner's concerns much better though I think.

Looking back to those early days, how have you and the Stuntdubl brand progressed?

I guess I've really only just started to think of stuntdubl as a "brand". It seems a bit arrogant to think of it that way in my mind sometimes, and I've really just been extremely lucky to have learned from some great people at the right times. I do give some buy in to Hugh MacLeod's theory of "global microbrands".

The beauty of microbrands is that they can be REAL - unlike the branding that we have traditionally been bombarded by from big business. My "brand" has so far always been just a catchy log and tagline, and me. I tried to add value with posting quality information rather than regurgitated search news, and not piss of too many people in the process. I'm starting to care a little less about ruffling the occasional feather, so I suppose that's one way I may have changed personally.

Personally speaking, I think there is a ton of value in reading your Blog. As an avid reader, I would definitely recommend it to anyone serious about improving the overall quality of their web presence. Moving forward, what are some of the major differences, both positive and negative, between working for a search marketing company and being a one-man operation?

I am really enjoying working solo - the positive aspects have certainly been the ability to make my own hours, and choosing my own clients and projects. As I mentioned, I'm pursuing some goals beyond just SEO consulting, which is really exciting to me. SEO is essentially two things to me - 1. Project Management and 2. A School of Thought. I'll always retain the SEO philosophy - I just want to do some project management on my own rather than JUST for others. No risk, no reward ya know. ;)

The drawbacks of being a lone gun operation is that I sometimes miss having a team - despite working hand in hand with many talented people - it was nice to have friends in the office too. The biggest drawback to me is that I can't stand accounting, and managing stuff like benefits, but these little inconveniences are far overshadowed by the positive aspects I have to say.

The funny thing is, I've always thought that working from home meant waking up minutes before 8am, using the facilities, stopping by the kitchen for some juice and toast, and sitting in a recliner working on a laptop while catching the previous day's sports scores and watching re-runs of the "Price Is Right"... does that about sum up your mornings? What is a typical Stuntdubl work day?

Oh man. I don't think you REALLY want to know. Readers - please skip this section if you get enough about people telling you about their lives that you don't really care about on MySpace.

I've never been much of a morning person to be honest. Even as I type this it's 2:15 a.m. Another great thing about being my own boss is being able to work when inspiration strikes (as well as sleep in and get over the guilt associated with it). I joke that I am generally more on "west coast time" despite being on the east coast and hate to admit that I often get up later than 9a.m.

In the mornings I'll generally read e-mail and blogs for a couple hours while scarfing down some breakfast (shredded wheat, hard boiled egg, and a banana is a normal one). I'll normally talk with a bunch of people (contractors, clients, vendors, etc.) throughout the day via chat and phone. I'm pretty diligent about keeping a list of things I'd like to accomplish for the week. It's generally more than I can ever possibly DO - but it pushes me to prioritize and do the stuff that will be most beneficial.

I've been becoming a better cook lately with the aid of allrecipes.com - so I'll generally cook some dinner and jump on my elliptical machine for a bit, then sit down and relax and read or watch TV most evenings - sometimes with laptop in tow, doing some of the more tedious type work that I wanted to get done.

How about weekends, holidays, and days off? What can you usually be found doing when not working or on a computer?

You get days off? Maybe I should go back to working for someone else. :) I like mountain biking, traveling, scratching records, deep sea fishing, movies, great meals, and having the occasional drink or two.

Wow! You definitely have a variety of hobbies, which is something that I truly feel is necessary when one is a geeky, as we are. "All work and no play makes Todd a dull boy". On your Blog, I noticed references to a "Mr. Ploppy". What's the story behind it?

Ahh... good old Mr. Ploppy. I started doing lists of tools for different tasks on my website, and for some reason I just dubbed the first one "Mr. Ploppy's Monday Morning Tool List".

The story behind Mr. Ploppy - It basically stemmed from an offhand comment made by someone at WMW in response to about the 721st "Google sandbox" question of the week. Someone asked "how do I know if I'm in the sandbox", and some smartass responded that there was a Google command to find out: mrploppy sez: www.yoursite.com * - Being the smartass I can sometimes be, I laughed a whole lot, and decided to use it later.

Now that's a funny story! I wonder if anyone actually tried it. In case you're all wondering (and I know you are), I just tried it, and nothing happened. LOL. Speaking of tools... as an SEO, what are some of the tools and resources that you use on a daily basis and which would you recommend to other SEOs?

Search marketing is about information. Finding tools to gather and interpret the correct information is critical to success. I have a list of public SEO tools that I use for various tidbits - but more so for understanding conceptual principles of building bigger, better, faster tools. I spend a lot of time digging through blogs, forums, looking for interesting tidbits. It's really cool to me how social networks have further increased the rapidity with which information is shared. Things like Digg and del.icio.us are probably among my favorite tools now because of all the cool tools that can be harvested FROM them.

The best tool is being able to interpret the data that you are given. Search marketing has now become as much about "people pushing" as "button pushing", and people don't like being pushed by tools. :) Maybe SEO should be search engine inspiration instead of optimization. I like to inspire people with something good, witty, or mention worthy.

I too use / experiment with social networking websites, and find them among my favorite "tools" as well. Regarding SEO techniques and strategies, there are obviously many that one can choose to implement into their own SEO efforts. Which do you feel is/are the most important?

Solid tracking and analytics is very crucial. Customers will always want the bottom line, and PROOF that you are responsible for the improvements they are seeing. If you don't adequately demonstrate results and sell yourself through the process, you are doing yourself a disservice. Above and beyond though, the very most important strategy to me is the mindset. The willingness to poke and prod at every aspect of a system and find out its strengths and weaknesses, and recognize change and what caused it. At the end of the day you need content, links, and value to your users. It's very cliche, but so true.

The question of "best techniques" gets asked a lot, and that was really a big rationale for why I wrote my "SEO is a philosophy, not a process" rant. I could tell you tweak your H1's, titles, internal anchor text, etc., but you obviously know most of that. Even the average webmaster knows 80% of the SEO process - for the other 20%, they can read Rand's search engine ranking factors article.

The mindset of where SEO evolved from is the unique technique in my mind. The inquisitive nature and the ability to find new strategies, angles, and methods for obtaining and monetizing traffic is what's empowering about SEO. Learning who to listen to for different topics is pretty important as well - in a field filled with its share of snake oil - you'll only be as good as the sources you learn from. Oh - and alt tag stuffing - you should definitely stuff the shit out of your alt tags with any keywords you can find, including multiple misspellings of "Britney Spears".

Hahahahha, well alright! Which do you feel is least important when it comes to ranking a website?

There's probably several on this list these days. If it doesn't help you to add content or links - it's probably only of marginal benefit. It's sad to see how many people spin their wheels still tweaking Meta-Tags when they could be working on creative ways for link acquisition.

Earlier in this interview you had mention that you were looking to move away from SEO. Looking ahead, what can we expect to see from Stuntdubl in the not too distant future?

I've been spending more and more time doing project management for some of my own ideas. I'd like to continue along that path. I'll probably continue to write about SEO theory and topics, as well as do some consulting with fun clients. I've got a really fun viral project coming out for a client shortly that has been in the works since about June. I've been working on a LinkBaiting service as well, which so far has seemed pretty cool and well received.

The LinkBaiting service sounds very interesting and one that would prove to be a great addition to any company's search campaign. How is the service going thus far? Can you tell us a little bit about how it works and what clients can expect as an outcome?

It's pretty amazing to be honest. There are new diversified channels for marketing folks to get links from. I think it's kind of like public relations 2.0 - presenting premium content in the most linkable form possible. It's a matter of being able to tap into the pulse of your people rather than the company's "target market". The main drawback is there are no guarantees - the results can be amazing, but the content has to be remarkable.

The service definitely sounds fun... I hope it works out for you! You've mentioned many times throughout this interview that attaining quality links is extremely important to one's SEO campaign. What advice would you offer those looking to improve on their own personal link-building efforts?

The best thing an SEO can do is learn to create top grade content for their niche, and distribute it effectively. There are volumes and volumes written on link building, or marketing from the "SEO perspective". There is a new school of thought in marketing, and it's all about the links (because it's mainly about building towards top SERPS).

I really enjoy LinkBaiting - but it's often a tough sell because there's much less of a guarantee - though that goes with most things SEO in general. We often take calculated risks based on our past experience to form future observations. The risks involved is both an advantage - because most companies will be much slower to move on it, until they have powerpoints and excel spreadsheets that detail the precise ROI - and a disadvantage, because it's a tough sell to get the budgets, and demonstrate the direct value at times.

As you're well aware, Search Engine Marketing is a very fast-paced industry and has the ability to shift gears at the turn of a dime. In your opinion, where do you see the Search Engine Optimization industry being 5 to 10 years down the road?

It'll probably be something like the movie "Minority Report" and we'll have to fend off those creepy little soldier spiders with mirrors and magnets, and clone eyeballs to effectively market to people. Many will die in order to find the weak areas of the creepy spider AI algorithm.

That - or it will just continue to evolve as a form of expressing ideas and messages to people through whatever new communication mediums evolve. Optimizing the message for the channels that have the biggest, strongest, fastest, distribution. SEO may die - but the mindset of good SEOs never will.

Lol... if the first scenario were to come true, could you imagine what guys like Danny, Todd, and Jim would be teaching at the SES conferences? They'd be up on a panel wearing souped-up metal armor and demonstrating which angles we should be holding the mirrors in order to get the best results. Assuming that your second theory is to come true, instead of the first, where do you see yourself being at that time?

Hopefully I'll be retired someplace with a fishing pole in one hand and an umbrella drink in the other. More likely I'll be sitting at a computer with chronic back problems and carpal tunnel, reminiscing about the "good old days" of buying run of site anchor text links for top 10 search rankings with my retina being scanned periodically by those freakish big brother spiders reporting my information back to the mother ship.

Let's hope that you're retired with a fishing pole and an umbrella drink in hand, and not involved with retina scanning or any other form of spider-probing. Well Todd, with all that was said, I'm now out of questions and that means that you're officially off the hook and free to go. On a more serious note, I think we were able to put down a GREAT interview (one that was equally informative as it was entertaining), and I thank you for your time and for sharing your SEO and Link-Building expertise with me and my readers.

I hope people got a laugh or too and maybe even learned something. I have to say - one of the most fun things about being "solo" is the ability to have a personality - and not worry too much about being "professional" all the time. I like working with really SMART people - but really FUN people is nearly as important. Thanks for lettin' me have a little fun Karl. Keep up the great work on your site.

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2 Comments:

  1. Hey, Karl, thanks for the great interview. I've enjoyed every one of your "get to know your seo" series of interviews.

    Todd, 2 questions for you.
    Since you're deciding to move away from SEO, do you think you'll stick around with online businesses or dabble with offline business ventures?

    Also, why did you decide to choose an eliptical over the superior buffing action of Tony Little's gazelle?

    Thanks for all of the great posts and top # lists!
    By Anonymous Jessica Guadiana on November 10, 2006
  2. Hey Jessica -

    1. I'm sure I'll continue to do SEO related work - mainly I'm trying to get away from doing consulting work for others, and do project management for my own projects. I'll definitely stick to what I know with online ventures.

    2. I actually did give the gazelle a test run before deciding on the elliptical - primarily because Tony Little kinda scares the crap out of me with his energy level (that and it felt kind of cheap)
    By Blogger Todd on November 10, 2006

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