An Interview with Eric Enge, President of Stone Temple Consulting

An interview with Eric EngeSearch marketing industry stalwart Eric Enge has been in the technology business since 1982 as a qualified electrical engineer, computer software engineer, tech startup founder and expert SEO. After several years in software and hardware design, and co-founding Whodoweknow.com, he became President of his own company Stone Temple Consulting Corporation in January 1997.

Eric is one of the most prolific contributors to the search marketing industry, better known for a near endless list of interviews with search industry movers and shakers on Stone Temple, his research studies, his columns at Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch.  Eric is Co-Author in the forthcoming book release, “The Art of SEO”, alongside Rand Fishkin, Stephan Spencer and Jessie Stricchiola.

I had a chance to meet up with him while I was in Boston, which I blew thanks to bad diary management and an unpredictable workload. Regardless, he’s been kind enough to make the time to answer a few questions by email.

You started Stone Temple back in 1997. How did you make the move into SEO?

It was not something I planned, that’s for sure.  The company was originally focused on business development consulting, which in this case was a fancy word for sales.  Then a friend of mine took over as CEO of a company called ULN, that ran a site at BestPrices.com (which is now at: ULN.com).

So I started trying to do some business development work for him.  After a short while I realized that what they really needed was traffic from search engines.  So I started working on that.  This was back when SEO was keyword and metatag based, so it was pretty easy.  Then I saw them generate millions of dollars from sales from search referrals, and the light bulb went off: “hey, maybe there is some money to be made here …”.

What was the demand like for SEO services back then? Were you having to find the clients, or were the clients finding you?

When I first started seriously pursuing SEO, I simply relied on my contacts and referrals to get new clients.  Initially, it was just me, and it ran that way for a few years.  I was spending half my time doing SEO consulting work, and the other half publishing our own sites and optimizing them.

Four or so years ago I made the decision to scale the consulting business up. I had developed a pretty good rep as a solo artist, but wanted to get more out of it.  Then, I was out in Las Vegas for a friend’s 50th birthday celebration.  One of the other guys there, John Biundo, and I started talking about SEO at some length.  John had made some money from a company he participated in selling to Sun Microsystems, and had stepped out of the working world for a few years.

But, he was looking to get back into the game.  I had known John for years, and had always known that he had strong technical knowledge, and strong business and marketing skills, which is a combination that I believe is a major asset for a professional SEO.  And, there I was, looking to expand, so we decided to partner on taking the business to the next stage.

So I began to up my focus on writing articles, speaking at conferences, and otherwise generating visibility.  Nonetheless, the sales model has not changed dramatically.  We have no salespeople.  Basically, if you want to work with Stone Temple Consulting you have to contact me by some means and ask.

I am sure that there is some gain to be had by reaching out and proactively seeking new clients, but the business is growing nicely using the existing model.  We are constantly looking for new people to bring into the company.

What advice have you got for aspiring startup CEO’s in digital marketing today?

Now that’s a big question.  Looking at it from the top level, I would say that these are the most important things:

1. You need to get an SEO professional involved prior to making any decisions at all about your web site.  There is too much that can go wrong if you don’t.

2. On page SEO can only carry you so far.  Put in other words, smart on page SEO is simply an enabler – it enables you to compete for ranking on search terms.  Links drive rankings.  You must get people to link to your site.  I was speaking to a web publisher the other day, and here is what I told her “Getting links to your site is the only thing you can do to grow your business”.  That’s a pretty strong statement, but in her case, it was true.  Being a bit more precise about it, once you have done a good job making your site search engine friendly, the most important thing, by far, that you can do to grow your web site traffic is to get people to link to your site.

3. To get significant links, you must provide significant differentiation from other web sites.  This means great content, great tools, or a product or service that becomes a big hit online.  If you are a reseller or an affiliate you need to focus on content or tools.  If you run a business where your product is good, but not the next iPhone (or the next Twitter), you need to focus on content or tools.

As you begin to realize the importance of content to your business, bear in mind that the content must be differentiated somehow.  40 articles about topics that have been written about dozens of times will not cut it.  You have to be the real deal, and provide unique value.

I know I have presented this as if they were hard and fast rules, but that’s because I believe this is the environment making up the web today.  Be search engine compatible.  Feed them some words to chew on.  Become a recognized expert or leader in your field.  Promote your site.  Every time we have followed this formula, it has worked.

How has your background in Electronics and computer engineering helped you in SEO?

As I mentioned above, I believe a mix of technical and marketing skills are a big plus for an SEO practitioner.  You need to be able to speak to web developers, and ideally about specific code constructs that they are using in a web site.  You need to be able to explain why one construct is good for search engines and another one is not.

On the other hand, you need to be able to speak to senior marketing people and C-Suite management and explain to them why something is a good or bad idea, and how to prioritize the investments they make in digital marketing.

The result is that you must be able to speak in programming languages and the language of business at the same time.

The Art of SEOThe Art of SEO” is set to be one of the most exciting publications in Digital Marketing for some time. Tell us how the idea was first hatched, and what can we expect from the book?

I was the last author added to the book team, so some of the details are a bit fuzzy.  Basically, as I understand it, Rand and Stephan were working on a book project, and Jessie was working on a different one.  I believe both had a contract with O’Reilly, but both projects were not progressing that well, because they are all very busy people who are in high demand.

O’Reilly then asked the three of them to work together.  However, none of them got any less busy, so there will still some fits and starts.  At SES Chicago 2008, Stephan asked me if I would be willing to join the team.  I felt extremely honored by the request, and I jumped on board after thinking about it for a grand total of one hour.

I feel privileged to have been a part of such an incredible team. Everybody made huge contributions, and the result is 592 pages of what we hope is a comprehensive and thorough look at SEO from top to bottom.  We certainly cover a lot of high level things, but we go into intense detail on many specific aspects of SEO as well.

When will we be able to get our hands on a copy?

October 15, 2009 is the official publication date! Copies can be pre-ordered online at Amazon now.

Stone Temple are well known for their interviews and podcasts with industry experts. Which ones have uncovered the most interesting “nuggets” in the past?

The killer nuggets seem to be spread out a bit.  My most recent interview, with Chris Silver Smith has some great stuff on local search in it.  Another great one for local search is the interview with Pankaj Mathur.

But, my best interviews were probably the two with Matt Cutts, on link building and general SEO issues.  That latter interview has some interesting history in it, because it is one of the few places where Matt Cutts publicly stated that using NoFollow for PageRank sculpting purposes was something that Google was OK with webmasters doing, but he made that practice obsolete with this post.

Eric, thank you so much for your time!

Thank you Richard!



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