Rand at SEOmoz recently offered to answer questions people might put to him about SEO, SEOmoz and so on. As I'm an unabashed fan and will proudly admit I look up to him as something of a role model in the SEO world, I'm going to share my answers to some of the questions I felt Rand didn't answer fully.
What does it take to be a great SEO? What are the personality traits and skills that separate the good SEOs from the great ones?
Rand: Sounds like a good title for a blog post to me :-) I think I'll try to address this will a more complete answer in the future.
My opinion (like it matters): I'm going to discuss two aspects of this: the company perspective and and the individual SEO perspective.
This question made me think of the excellent book "Small Giants," by Bo Burlingham, in which he discusses "Companies that chose to be great, instead of big." One of the things I recall about the companies profiled was that many of them were passionate about what they did, as were their employees.
As a matter of fact, while I can't recall what company it was, both employees and management chose to take pay cuts during an economic downturn to keep the company afloat. They did it because they loved working there and enjoyed what they were doing.
Another aspect of being a great company is that the people who work for you are empowered (excuse the buzzword) to make important decisions. Reell Precision Manufacturing, an engineering company, let its employees resolve whether or not to create a hinge that would be used in a cigarette dispensing machine. The CEOs (there were two) left it up to the employeed, trusting them to make the right choice.
Eventually the internal dispute resolution mechanisms decided not to do the project. The story went into the company newsletter. That shows not only that the employees are empowered, but that the company is proud of how its employees handled the situation. That says a lot, imho.
Regarding being a great SEO, I'd say similar rules apply. You need to be passionate, and love the work. When Rand stays up till the wee hours of the morning blogging - that's passion. While I'm not in the same class as Rand, and nowhere near, I spend 15 - 20 hours reading marketing blogs each week to stay current with the latest techniques and ideas. Why? Because I love it.
Another essential aspect of it is that you're good at building links - human links. Look around the blogosphere or even just your favourite few sites and blogs. The external linking goes in an overwhelming majority to people the author is friends with or at least knows personally. See my posts on Yulbiz, for example.
Another essential element is that you should be willing to test different things, even if they aren't part of your specialty, strictly speaking. Look at Dreamhost's homepage. A few years ago, it was a lot more complicated and made several different offers to you. Now it's almost entirely dedicated to one conversion action and it uses an image to that purpose (stay tuned for a post on that trend).
One last point I'd like to mention is that you should know your limits. When you're starting out, it's easy to try and sell your services to everyone around. You need to bring in money, after all. I've made the mistake myself, so I sympathize. But search marketing is just not appropriate to every form of business or every type of website.
For example, a lot of smaller brochure sites are only informational - there's no defined conversion. For branding sake you might want a lot of search traffic. But it'll be hard to justify - especially if you're working with a small business - because the bottom line ROI won't be there in a measurable way. And chances are that if trying to sell SEO/M to everyone and their brother is an issue for you, you're working mostly with small businesses.
Other sites that probably won't benefit from search marketing are purely informational ones. Similarly, those with few people searching for their products (though if the value of a conversion is big enough - think 5 figures - this may not matter) may not be ideal clients.
Can you tell me the SEO benefit or penalties of domain and subdomain relationships? (I heard bad domains can penalize subdomains but not the other way around?) Since they are treated as individual websites, are there any other benefits - like if you have 1000 links to a subdomain, does it have any effect on the root domain? Can you elaborate on any of this?
Rand: I'm not sure I'd be fully confident that bad subdomains can't hurt you (particularly if you have lots of links from your main domain pointing to it). I'd probably speculate that subdomains and domains can hurt one another if they contain spam and are untrusted or penalized by the search engines.
As for having 1000 links to a subdomain - I suppose it would affect the main domain in that, in the engines' eyes, that subdomain might be treated less like a separate entity and more like a part of the main domain, but we've still seen examples where heavily-linked-to subdomains aren't quite as trusted and fully "part" of the main domain when it comes to search rankings. I'm not sure what you're looking for elaboration on, but my general rule of thumb is that unless there is a truly excellent reason to use a subdomain (reputation management through SERPs domination, for example), stick to just using subfolders.
Yours truly: Check out Blue Hat SEO on using subdomains. His experience is that spammy subs won't hurt the main site - provided they're orphans not linked to from the main site.
Consider this blogspot domain for one. If I cloaked this place and filled it with auto-generated keyword gibberish, I couldn't hurt Blogspot.com or Blogger.com. I can't find the link to the Blue Hatter's post at this point in time, but if somebody does, please post it in the comments.
Is it a good idea to create a page listing sites that link to you, but that search engines haven't found yet? (either on the site, or a different domain)?
Rand: A good idea for tracking or monitoring purposes? Maybe - but your analytics tool should be doing this for you through the referring links/domains sections. If you're asking from an SEO perspective, I can't think of a particularly good reason to create a page with any content that you then hide from search engines. Perhaps I'm not fully grasping your question.
Me: Will Critchlow did a good job answering this in the comments. I'd like to point you to a further source, again at Blue Hat SEO. Eli presents the concept as "Synergy links." Essentially, you get articles posted on third party sites, and then link to those articles from other third party sites. Eli's got the spam approach going on with the third party sites being directories you can automatically get links from, but the technique works for general white-hat purposes too. (Notice that my article on reputation management ranks top 20 at Google?)