Interview Series

Interview with the Experts: Ruud Hein

By Elisa Gabbert October 26, 2009 Posted In: Interview Series Comments: 0

Ruud Hein is a Dutch family man living in Canada. Newsweek-recommended web publisher and blogger in his own right, he works at the SEO company Search Engine People where he's an internal SEO consultant and blog editor. See also: @ruudhein.

Ruud Hein and Daughter

Can you describe a typical day in the life of Ruud Hein?

06:50 – Put on coffee, start TweetDeck so it populates, take shower; make breakfast for my youngest daughter and my wife.

07:45 – Open TweetDeck, scan TwitScoop column; check if the world has made it through another night. Decide on which topic I want to track today. Check Cre8asite Forums. Check if blog posts on SEP and SEO Scoop have gone out.

09:00 – One hour of Most Important Task work.

10:00 – Check email. Do short stuff right away. Archive. Put stuff in my Evernote GTD setup. Do Timeboxed work.

11:15 – Make lunch for my daughter. Eat with daughter and/or my wife.

11:45 – Email, Cre8asite Forums or Twitter

12:00 – Timeboxed work

15:15 – Say hi to daughter, see how the day went.

17:00 – Homework with daughter. Make supper. Eat with family. Clean kitchen. Say hi to my mom in the Netherlands.

18:30/19:00 – Sit together. Watch something (Rewatching “Wonder Years” and “Columbo”; newer stuff is “Kidnapped” and “Breaking Bad”) or read together (Steven King, Mary Higgins-Clark, John Grisham, Dana Stabenow, Thomas Perry … and so many others).

21:00/22:00 – Bed time. Laptop with recreational reading. New York Times. Lots of feeds. More book reading. I like to go to bed early, usually with a cup of caramel tea; my wife and I call it our Christmas time in bed – it’s that special to us.

It seems like you wear a lot of different hats in the web publishing world. What takes up most of your time?

I increasingly spend time on the blogs of Search Engine People; about one day a week in total. It’s often work that can’t be batched together so it varies.

Looking at which task I spend the most time on, ManicTime says it’s email.

You've accused Google of creating the illusion that SEO is easy by offering a bunch of "set it and forget it" features in Webmaster Tools, but abusing our trust by changing policies without informing the SEO public. What's your stance now on Google: friendly or hostile to SEOs?

Well … accused … I’m still not sure what happened there. I find it … suspect or odd, so to say, that some at Google wonder out loud how come SEO’s missed this – knowing full well that when you remove links from the matrix, it will change PageRank throughout the site whichever way you (re)distribute the PR or not.

Anyway … Google has made some things easier or more accessible and it’s very tempting, very easy to be lulled into a false sense of comfort and security when you use those solutions as a substantial part of your work.

The no-follow “now you see it, now you don’t” episode was a great wake-up call: Google can pull the rug from under you at any time – and has no qualms doing so at all.  

Sudden and seemingly irrational policy changes will become what ranking updates used to be: killing fields.

So when it comes to PageRank sculpting, canonical issues, content duplication, URL rewrites – what are you going to do this time around? Fix it or put a Google duct tape solution on it?

You have compared (I think on Twitter) social media today to the "golden days" of SEO. How are they similar?

These are, for the most, still the days of the Wild West. Things work on social media now that won’t work a bit down the line. SocMed is cheap and easy at the moment *compared to what it will be* 1-2 years down the line.

Also, like the earlier days of SEO, this is ground level. This is get in, do it territory. Already the milk is spoiling and ad agencies and marketing companies are trying to get in.

When we’re kidding around about social media “gurus” and other so-called douchebags – that’s the Wild West.

Do you think you can still purport to do "SEO" without some degree of social promotion and without the use of media? Are the lines between SEO and SMO starting to blur?

Yes and yes of course.

SEO in essence is not equal to promotion, marketing, branding. Those 3 can benefit SEO and thus a good SEO will look at them as SEO tools.

So yes, you can perform search engine optimization in the classic, technical model without using outside forces.

As for SEO and SMO – this goes back to a good SEO being a sort of junkie. A good SEO has an SEO fixation. Where webdev’s freak out over how cool HTML5-ish Google Wave is made, SEO’s think “now, like wow, how do I fold this back into our sites?!” Where a domainer hears “dot com” behind good phrases or ideas, a good SEO reads them as targeted anchor text. Where normal folks query Google like crazy to figure out if Michael Jackson died or not, a good SEO is thinking “is there *any* feasible, semi-sane way at all to use this to increase links to our faucets client?”

So yes, the lines between SEO and SMO aren’t starting to blur; they *are* blurred. As are the ones between SEO and PR, marketing, branding, religion, racing, politics and popsicles.

Ruud Hein and wifeI like this quote about "information overload" from your blog: "If someone is clutching his stomach complaining about 'food overload' caused by there being too much food to digest, you'd ask 'but why in the world do you try to eat it all at the same time?!'" Do you have any tips for avoiding "overeating" information, or distinguishing signal from noise?

Yup: get a life <smiles> Seriously, go on vacation for a week or two, spend time with your family and yourself – then see what you “missed,” right? Nothing.

Read what you like. Enjoy your feeds, enjoy your browsing.

When it comes to *work* rely on aggregators and news filters you trust. Search Engine Roundtable is a good example.

Plug your Google Reader feeds into FeedDemon so you can use keyword watches to filter for specific pieces of information.

And of course (still work-related): search, don’t read.

You're a self-professed "Wordpress geek." What's so great about Wordpress, particularly for SEO?

I used Grey Matter before coming to B2, what later became WordPress. Thus I sort of “grew up” with it and I know it like an old friend.

WordPress’ strength is that it has an elegant balance between features and possibilities, between options and what could be done. It has kept its setup, both user and developer facing, clean and simple enough that going from “wouldn’t it be cool” to “wow, that’s cool” is simple enough to draw both code hacks and super disciplined MVC developers.

SEO-wise it’s no longer the magic bullet it once was, of course; Google got wise to blogging. But it still provides a super simple way to get a site started, separate content and design, get nice clean URL’s and automate so much more of what would otherwise have been a lot of static HTML work “back then.”

When you're tasked with optimizing a big mess of a site, what goes through your head? Where do you start? Is it harder to get a site ranking on the tenth page to the first or from the tenth spot on the first page to #1? Which is more fun?

What’s the optimal structure. That’s usually what I think – also because team mates at Search Engine People focus on other parts like link building. People like Paul Teitelman and a whole bunch of others more “behind the scenes” take care of that.

Essentially I’m looking at the site as if links are stripped away or devalued; how can we maximize what this site does when that’s not there?

As for ranking … I learned from Ammon Johns on Cre8asite Forums that a) no matter how large the competition, you’re always with just 10 sites – the ones on page 1, and b) that ranking is meaningless … that it’s all about the dollar.

Between increasing conversions and increasing pot of fool’s gold ranking, I know where my money is.

You've contributed a lot of very helpful, in-depth posts on forums, particularly Cre8asite. That level of contribution has to be time-consuming—what motivates you to engage in that sort of participation in a community rather than starting your own forum or turning your advice into blog content on your own domain?

I’ve started to make more time for that again, recently. Changes in my family life in the past 2 years have seen me … participate less, or differently.

Blog posts are very one-way initially. Forum participation feeds on an expressed need; someone asks a specific question and you chime in. That’s fun and utterly practical. As you spend more time, certain faces become familiar and you feel part of a bigger whole.

And yes, ruudhein.com could have had super deep insight SEO posts but I rather keep the lines clean and keep SEO posts for the Search Engine People blog. On my own site I want to be free to post about “whatever.” It’s a site where I only post when I have something I want or need to say. There’s no “every Xth day” schedule.

What tools and apps do you use every day and consider indispensable to doing your job and/or living your life?

The essentials?

I can’t really imagine email anymore outside of Gmail. It strikes me as odd when I see a “regular” email client – and there’s no conversation view. That’s like … weird.

Evernote is one of the first programs I install. Although I make frequent trips to other note/database software, Evernote is the one I’ve kept coming back to since 2005. The “results while you type” search is a killer feature. I’m unhappy to observe the ongoing degradation of features in each release but for now, this is my ultimate information app.

AutoHotkey is one of the best text expanders/power shortcut makers. I’ve used Perfect Keyboard and ActiveWords before but AH combines the best of those two – and then some. A lot of tasks go smoother using my custom shortcuts and in some cases I have to think a split second to remember how to do it the “normal” way when I’m on another computer.

Other stuff: Picasa for photo management, FlashFXP for FTP, UltraEdit for almost anything. MediaMoneky for music throughout the day. MindManager which I use for keyword research, brainstorming, mapping a site’s structures, keeping notes during conference calls, etc.

One program I should mention is DietPower. I have to keep a close watch on what I eat and this program has been a lifesaver for that. Other applications, like FitDay, can more or less do and track the same but DietPower tracks the right nutrients *and* foods you add to the database show up for all users. Very, very handy.

You have conducted a lot of SEO industry interviews yourself. How does it feel when the tables are turned? Do you prefer doing the asking or the answering?

I’ve never done interviews; I just ask some questions that interest me <smile>

The answering is flattering; it sorta feels like “wow, look at me, they want to interview me” but the asking is very special. You never know what will come back; it’s a very addictive experience.

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