Spotlight on Search Interview with Michael Nguyen, SEO Strategist for Shopzilla & Bizrate.com.
Helping companies with very, very large web sites increase sales through improved search engine performance takes a unique type of person. Think equally strong left and right brain lateral thinking. Heavy doeses of technical savvy plus creative problem solving are essential.
Shopzilla and Bizrate market millions of products and Michael Nguyen’s SEO responsibilities for those sites are substantial. In this interview Michael talks about Google’s recent MayDay update, a SEO checklist, his top resources for staying current in the field and the unique challenges (including duplicate content) that come with optimizing huge web sites.
There’s a bit of a trend as we’ve interviewed lead SEO practitioners for well known brands. They seem to have the combined experience of independent consultant, agency and having worked in-house. Please tell us about how you got into search marketing and how your past experience in these roles has contributed to your current position. Also, what’s the most interesting thing about working with Shopzilla?
Sounds like I’ve had a very similar path as your other interviewees. I started my career as a web developer for Aerospace Corporation, mainly building dynamic web sites and internal search engines. I spent a good amount of time testing and understanding search engine optimization on my own during that time – partly out of interest and applicability to my work. From there I did some independent consulting for a couple years and eventually joined an agency (SEO Inc). Spent a few years there working for a variety of clients, small and large. I had a chance to move in-house with Shopzilla about 4 years back and I took it. Been with Shopzilla ever since.
I do a lot of technical SEO on our large and complex sites, so it’s required that I understand the technical detail behind the scenes. It’s much easier to communicate with the development team if you understand what’s going on in the backend.
The greatest thing about working in the comparison shopping / product reviews space is the challenge. Our market is extremely competitive and there are many large players. You really don’t have time to rest, but it keeps me interested. With Shopzilla specifically, I’m given all the tools I need to do my job – it’s a simple concept, but in reality not many SEOs can say the same. I have access to large amounts of data, analytical resources, development teams, specialized tools, etc all tailored towards SEO. At the highest level, Shopzilla is a company that really understands search and user behavior. It’s the perfect environment for an SEO because we work at the intersection of search and users.
Working with large organizations and also companies with large web sites is unique for a variety of reasons. What have you found to be the best advice for getting quality SEO recommendations implemented with large web sites (or companies)?
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the best way to get things implemented within a large company is through education. Things get done faster when everyone is on board. So that requires constant educating and training. The more people that understand SEO the better. You want advocates for SEO in every area of the business – from engineering to upper management.
What are some of the unique SEO challenges that you encounter with a business like Shopzilla with its own network of sites and so much data being published?
With a business like Shopzilla, I’m always challenged with the sheer size of our sites. We have millions of products and various different business lines. So keeping everything indexed and ranking is a constant battle. I spend a lot of time thinking about optimal site architecture and site performance. For large sites, even small changes in indexing can equate to significant revenue shifts.
The comparison shopping and consumer review market is pretty interesting. Shopzilla not only competes with other shopping engines, but we also compete for organic traffic against informational portals, niche review sites, review aggregators, and blogs. We’re both a head and long tail business. All of us (Shopzilla, Shopping.com, Nextag, etc) start off with the same basic data from merchants. We all aggregate products and provide comparison shopping features on our sites.
So in order to drive traffic to our sites, we need to improve our product and provide value on top of that data. In the end it comes back to the user – what does the user find valuable and what is the user searching for?
Users want to easily compare a variety of products and make a confident buying decision. So at Shopzilla, we devote a lot of resources to ensure those two things happen on our site. We take millions of products and organize them around what users tell us is the most usable categorization. We allow users to refine by a variety of useful attributes. We help them understand the products they are interested in with user reviews, buying guides, and comments from the point of sale. We assist with merchant selection through our merchant reviews. So while we start with essentially commoditized data, we add a ton of content and value on top of that starting data. Increasing product value results in increased organic traffic.
In a sense, SEO is the product and the product is SEO.
What advice can you offer about dealing with content syndication and duplication? What are some common situations you’ve encountered and their solution?
301 Redirects and rel canonical are your friends when dealing with any sort of duplication/content syndication issue. It’s pretty common for sorting features (for example a “sort by price” feature) to create duplicate content. Rel canonical is perfect for getting rid of that type of duplication.
For content syndication, I recommend placing a variety of signals within the content that helps Google understand the true source of the content. Depending on the type of content this could be: links within the content pointing back to your page, a rel canonical, a URL, or your domain.
Can you offer some of your experience and insight regarding Google’s recent Mayday update? What can companies with large sites that rely on long tail traffic do about Mayday?
It’s even more important now with Mayday that large sites reconsider the signals they are sending to Google regarding their deeper pages (long tail). Obviously not every single page on a large site deserves to be equally promoted, so craft your navigation around the fact that different pages have varying value. Spend some time building links to deeper pages to support sections with weak indexing.
While it’s a little overdramatic, imagine how your site would perform if domain authority did not exist. Start tailoring your SEO strategy with that in mind.
If you were to provide a friend a checklist for marketing their new B2C website online, what would you be sure to include”
Guess my checklist would be pretty simple:
1. Build something people want
2. Make it extremely easy for search engines to crawl/index your site
3. Get people talking about your site online
4. Keep improving the site
Google’s guidelines are really helpful for a new site.
What web based SEO or social media marketing tools would you recommend for that new web site? Any tools we’ve probably never heard of?
These tools are more tech heavy than your typical SEO tools, but I figured some of these might be new to your readers:
1. 80legs – Crawl your own site (or a competitors) and extract whatever data you want
2. SEOmoz API – Mashup all that juicy SEOmoz data
3. Solr – Great for understanding the basics behind a search engine
4. nutch – Similar to SOLR, this one is great for understanding crawling/indexing
Monitoring tools are useful too, setting up a Google Alerts and Twitter RSS feed is helpful for keeping up with what others are saying about your brand online. Once you know what your users are talking about, you can join in on the conversation.
You’ve received kudos from people like the GM of your current company for “staying on top of what’s going on in the search marketplace”. How do you stay current? What are your favorite information sources? (Conferences, Blogs, Newsletters, Books, Forums)
I used to monitor a ton of different blogs/sites/sources, but I’ve paired it down to handful of sources recently. Here’s what I check regularly:
1. Hacker News
2. SEO Book
3. SMX/Search Engine Land
5. SEO by the Sea
If it’s important, it will eventually make it to one of those sites. I’d also love to attend a WWW Conference someday.
Thank you Michael!
Michael Nguyen is the SEO Strategist for Shopzilla & Bizrate.com. Bizrate enables shoppers to quickly and easily find, compare and buy anything, sold by virtually anyone, anywhere on the Internet. Find Michael on his blog, Social Patterns or on Twitter...Online Marketing Blog