Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Gab Goldenberg of SEO ROI . Gab is a 22-year old SEO consultant and law student from Montreal, Canada, and is fast becoming a thought leader in search marketing. Read on for more about Gab.
On your site, you write that Jim Boykin offered you a job in 2008. Can you tell us what the job was and why you turned it down?
Jim didn't have a specific position in mind, to my knowledge. He wrote me saying, "I'm a fan of your writings and I'd like to explore the possibility of having you join the We Build Pages team." Pretty sweet compliment to my ears, considering Jim's always been someone I looked up to in search marketing as a leader and generally savvy guy!
Anyways, we couldn't work together because Jim needed me to relocate to upstate NY for the job. I'm still in school, for one thing, and I have a lot of stuff here in Montreal for now.
Do you feel there’s a place for Black Hat SEO tactics in the arsenal of every SEO, or is it best to know and understand the “black hat” tactics and stay “squeaky clean?”
I think every SEO should be familiar with Black Hat SEO, at least generally, because it gives you a better understanding of the algorithms. When you see university sites being hacked and filled with pharmacy spam, it's because the spammers are exploiting Google's reliance on trusted domains. Which tells you that if you can get some connections at schools to host pages for you legitimately, you're way ahead of the game. That sort of thing can be done whitehat, it just takes creativity.
I'm not a programmer and couldn't explain to you how an XSS exploit works. I know what it is, and that's enough to me. I have a number of issues with that approach. But on a strictly utilitarian perspective that I hope black hats I'm friendly with can understand - it's a bad risk. You're risking jail for what? Tens of thousands? Hundreds?
Genius programmers who can script at that level should sit back and find legal uses for their skills that can make them as much/more money. Black hat hacking type stuff can make you lots of money short term with masses of spam, but ironically, it doesn't scale like other businesses - you can't really hire employees because they'll just learn the business and copy you. Meanwhile, Bill Gates is the richest programmer ever.
Also, I want to clarify something about Black Hat SEO. I didn't mean to imply that it's all illegal, or all of it is unethical. Only those parts that involved harming others' sites. There are parts that are just about outsmarting the algorithms with superior software, and that's fine imho. For example, I have no opposition to cloaking - it's just another business tactic to be used as necessary.
One of the ingredients of great “link bait” is creativity. Can you tell me what you think are some other key characteristics of a “can’t miss” link bait idea?
Gab asked to include the following clarification here:
"The point about me sharing it with Rhea was that she liked it, and so that told me it would have been good linkbait. Then KnowEm came out and confirmed my instinct. Some people are taking it as me knocking on Rhea, which wasn't my intention." -- Gab
Bouncing the idea off members of your target community and they all love it. The funny thing is I had the idea for KnowEm.com  and offered it to Rhea at Outspoken Media as something they could linkbait with and make money off of (I had no time/budget for that). A few months later KnowEm comes out to huge acclaim. Bingo.
Also, if there's an emotional connection, I think that makes a difference. You can achieve that with a story or analogy. My Internal Link Building plugin was pretty successful in attracting links partly because the story was that you can rank like Wikipedia without being Wikipedia, because your internal linking is automated like Wikipedia. Now obviously, it's not the only thing you need to rank, but it helps SEO a lot - and it also boosts pageviews! But getting back on point, many people who talked about the plugin used that analogy. I think everyone who's ever been envious of Wikipedia's rankings (yours truly amongst them!) could appreciate that story. My friend Matt's The Oatmeal  is genius because it's so funny and yet kind of despicable. Punching dolphins and fighting children? *Gasp* That's terrible! ;)...
You’re often contrarian and prodding in blog comments and posts, and many of your posts and ideas are new or unconventional in some way. Is this an image you embrace, does it come naturally, or is it something you actively work at, a conscious effort say for personal branding?
I'm dissapointed to hear that you've seen me as contrarian and prodding in comments and posts. I can see some things I've written coming across that way, but that wasn't the intention.
I try to contribute to the community by challenging ideas I disagree with. For instance, sometimes posts repeat old myths or give bad advice. Everyone who just shuts up and doesn't refute the nonsense is doing a disservice to newbies. So I'm not being contrarian - I'm trying to help others learn the way others like Frank Watson  did for me at the SEW Forums. Contrarians only want attention, and all they do is argue. I want attention, sure, but I also want to help. And I don't just argue - I'm often encouraging new Youmoz writers or commenters to keep writing if I like their first contribution(s).
Another thing I try to do is advocate for creative implementations of other techniques to generate higher ROI. The image I want to cultivate is that of an innovator and leader in SEO. One who - even if he's not right 100% of the time - creates new techniques and helps others by sharing them. That's why being familiar with Blackhat SEO is valuable. You can come up with text link ad disguises , ways to test your PPC and SEO 20x faster , and much more.
Once you’ve researched something and become aware of a trend or tactic you haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else, how do you decide which concepts to share and which you should keep to yourself?
I wish I had a principle that works. Guys like Eli  apparently milk an exploit until it starts working less and less because others copy him. Then he shares it publicly to kill the technique (and his competition). But I think that's limited to people operating on the latest loophole in the algorithms.
My friend Marty Weintraub  gave me his take on this at a trade show or something. He said, "share it all. The people who are good enough to compete will figure it out anyways - so you may as well make them into fans/friends by sharing." I agree entirely with that, and have seen it happen to me when I've withheld an idea or postponed sharing it. Probably 3-4 times in the past month! Someone else will share it or execute on it (KnowEm.com) and then it's like damn - that could have been publicity for my site! Hehe.
Sometimes, you also get to the same idea from different roads. I came up with this technique, which I thought to write up under a title like "Usability On The Cheapest: Click Tracing." What you do is look at your logs for visitors who had a high time-on-site (good traffic usually) and see what they clicked around on. If they didn't convert, retrace their steps and go through it yourself. That led me to find that my sidebar navigation kills some conversions, for example. Anyways, I bought the Eisenbergs' Call To Action book. Apparently, they shared more or less that technique from an enterprise analytics perspective back in 2004 or 2005! lol...
Bottom line: Just share your ideas and reap the publicity. Don't delay or procrastinate - you're only helping others grab your limelight and the following you could be building!
Being a 22 year old law student, how did you get into online marketing? Also, how do you manage to keep up with online marketing given all your other activities, such as studying for your law degree, speaking gigs, blogging, etc.?
I had a politics blog that I wanted to use to influence Canadians to vote the same way I was going to. I looked up website promotion or something like that. One thing led to another and next thing I know I'm reading up on SEO at Problogger.net  and Entrepreneur's Journey . I submitted to every free directory I could find, filled my site with keywords in every plausible location and ranked in just a few months, plus had PR 5. Turns out no one was looking for those keywords, and my PageRank 5 was disconnected from any trust, probably because of all those directories. But I'd succeeded in my initial goal, so I figured I could go and help others at that point lol.
From there it was Sitepoint site reviews, a little SEO blog etc. I got serious when, in my ignorance, I figured there were no well-branded SEO shops in town and I could be the first. Truth be told, I wasn't entirely wrong. On the one hand, my friendly competitors at NVI  have a good following here in Montreal, and their guys are pretty savvy. JF Renaud and his boys at Adviso  blog some smart things too. But neither of their shops are super well known outside Quebec, afaik. While I don't have anywhere near their connections locally, I've had the good fortune of networking more globally with guys like Dante Monteverde of Spiderbait , Dan Soha of Five Mill  and the awesome people that make up Third Door Media .
Anyhow, that's how I got into online marketing. As to keeping up - it's more a question how I'm managing the legal stuff. I'm procrastinating an essay to write answers for this interview lol (so much more fun ;)). For speaking I just tell my blog readers I'm headed off to SMX, n fortunately both my mom and dad have been patient so far. So that's my total readership contented ;).
So looking forward, what are your plans for the future? Do you plan to sort of focus on one area—be it law or SEO consulting—or do you enjoy living life at a frantic pace with a lot of different balls in the air?
I don't like life at a frantic pace, ironically. Only dancing at a frantic pace - salsa and techno are awesome :D.
My medium term plan is to keep doing SEO for the next few years. Law isn't a career I want to do. You don't have work life balance imho. Besides, it doesn't scale well - you only have so many hours in a day, and so many competent attorneys you can hire / find work for. Long term, I'd like to move up the food chain. You've got to think - if the client can pay $5 - $10K/month in service fees - they've gotta be making a multiple of that in revenue. The big picture isn't about having 80% profit margins and making $X. It's about having 30% margins and making $10X. I've got a post in the works on that actually. Keep an eye on my SEO blog  for more!