Interview With The Experts: Eric Lander

February 2, 2017

If you've had any interaction with Eric Lander, you probably know a few things: He lives outside Boston, he's established way more companies than most people under 30 (or 60, for that matter), he's incredibly kind (don't let him tell you otherwise), and he really knows search and social marketing. We decided to take advantage of the last part by asking him to kick off our Search Marketing Interview Series.

WordStream extends a very sincere thank you to Eric for sharing his insight and expertise with us. 

What’s your biggest frustration with search marketing?

Lack of clarity and cohesion with third party tools. The information you can retrieve through third party services never match up with one another. With keyword research, you're bound to get high degrees of variance from one source to another. It doesn't stop there though as engines' provide conflicting data and professionals provide differing advice and "proof" in processes. While it makes for an enjoyable challenge each day, it can become quite frustrating for me when it comes time to research a new market or vertical I haven't been active in before. It's as though certain tools and resources are only best applied in certain markets.

You recently left ADP to start your own SEO consulting business.  What has that been like?

Easily the best decision I have ever made in my career. The people I work with continue to amaze me with both their experience levels and points of view. Having started two SEO firms before joining ADP, I was hopeful that a corporate structure and team environment would suit me well. What I found was that I craved the topical diversity that consulting provides and when it came down to it - I don't play well with others. :)

What were your first impressions of search marketing? Is there something that really surprised, interested, or disappointed you as you became more and more involved in search marketing?

Search marketing has always been mysterious to me. There's a constant "fog of war" that I think true search marketers struggle with. It's a game of sorts where your direction and strategy is based on what you know about your targets. Search engines and types of search phrases all behave differently - so the need to adapt to what you know and what you can form a hypothesis around has an enjoyment that I haven't seen in other areas of marketing. You can always play it safe - but it's when you uncover a fantastic tactic that generates massive amounts of traffic that keeps you working harder and smarter each day. It has been that way since 2000 when I got started and has not changed a bit since. I love it.

Your post comparing Google to the mob started some great discussion inside our office.  How does your view of Google impact how you do your job?

I hate that post. As an idea, the post sat on my whiteboard for about 6 weeks. I caught some documentary one night and over drinks later that day, I started debating the position amongst friends... The next morning I just started writing and tried to force the flow to present a perspective that others would form an opinion on. That worked, but it wasn't written well and wasn't well received. If it led to other offline conversations of value though, I'll take that. Thing is, the search industry is blessed with some great writers. I'm not one of them. I accepted that a long time ago... I just wish others didn't "expect more" from me when it comes to my blog. It clearly states that it's home to "thoughts, opinions, rants and raves". I never claimed to offer anything of value there.
My views are quite simple when it comes to Google. If you're going to be successful in search, you willingly accept that Google will provide you with the most traffic and opportunity.

You’ve been an Associate Editor with Search Engine Journal for almost 2 years now.  In that time, is there an article that sticks out as your favorite?  Do you have a favorite topic/author?

When I worked at ADP, I often used posts I wrote as tutorials for certain things (like the Local Business Center, for example). Since joining up with Loren Baker though, I think my favorite post would have to be NoFollow: An SEO Red Flag?. The post received a number of comments and follow-up discussions. While it wasn't well received publicly, I got a lot of kudos at SMX West right after the post was written. It was painfully short, but it led to some great follow-up pieces on other great sites in search. (See: The Great Nofollow Link Debate of '08, Does Using a NoFollow Attribute Raise a Red Flag at Google?, No Follow on Sphinn) That's one of the most rewarding things about writing for Search Engine Journal for me... The icing on the cake though was that at SMX Advanced 2009 just a few weeks ago - the theory proved to hold water: Nofollow Makes News at SMX Advanced.

Is Guy Kawasaki ruining Twitter?

Since I don't have a Twitter account, I'm not qualified to answer that. I will say though that this discussion is the real reason I resigned as co-host of SEO 101 on Webmaster Radio. I've never had a problem with Guy and his Twitter usage, yet in my final show on April 20th, I had to explain that time and time again. While I have disagreed with a number of Guy's positions on things in the past, his abuse of Twitter wasn't one of them. I'm an SEO. I'm not a Social Media Marketer and never wish to be. Twitter is a great tool for driving attention, traffic and content - there's no doubt. In the year or so I had my accounts active though - I struggled to grasp it's full potential and I finally just deleted my account a few weeks ago.

What do you wish you had known about search when you first started?  In other words, what advice would you give to someone who is just entering the search space?

Don't be afraid to go big early. When I started off the space felt a bit like the Wild West. The industry has since grown at a tremendous rate so there's less room to maneuver. I was very cautious to build sites, explore content models and focus on specific engine-efforts in the first couple years of my career. Today my efforts are almost always focused on a particular engine, phrase, etc. There's something to be said for the ability to go big and build sites and networks with confidence. In search, you can often over think things and play it too safe.


Well said all around, Eric--thanks again!