JP Sherman: The Delphian Dictionary

by on September 16, 2011

For the first of many interviews in my NC SEO’s series, we get to peek inside the mind of John Paul Sherman. I first met JP back in 2009 through twitter when we were both interested in some link prospecting tools that Garrett French was explaining to us when they launched.  Not that many people astonish me with their sheer knowledge of the obscure. I don’t mean like just a bit of awareness of a few arcane things. I mean more like a Delphian Dictionary. We continued to communicate via twitter and eventually came to the conclusion that we had to meet up.  We, along with Garrett, live in the Raleigh area, so all three of us got together for some beers and shop talk. After meeting him in person, I knew JP’s aposterioristic tendencies would make me question my own knowledge of Lovecraftian Lore and my unusual sympathy for the Romulans. I recommend reading his blog on video game marketing and following him on twitter @jpsherman.

Interview with JP Sherman: The Delphian Dictionary

Gonzo: What was the oddest SEO gig you’ve ever had?

JP: A long time ago, at an agency I worked with, I worked as the agency SEO lead on a social network for swingers. From a technical perspective, this network valued its users’ privacy (for some strange reason) and all of the content was behind a login paywall. The only pages Google saw was the homepage and a few corporate pages. Since we couldn’t do the standard SEO strategy, we focused on creating a highly entertaining blog and a hyper-aggressive link strategy. We even added a tongue in cheek glossary for common swinger’s terminology. Our agency wasn’t well equipped to handle a unique case like this, since our SEO program was overly templatized, but we saw some success with our link-baiting.

The other strange client didn’t have a website; he had a series of MS Word documents posted on a message board. He wanted us to optimize that. He refused to actually pay for a website and would go off on weird internet conspiracy fantasies about how the government was afraid of his products and would try to track his movements through the internet. I actually looked forward to our conference calls as they were highly entertaining. He sold plumbing fixtures.

Gonzo: Uhhh…. WTF?  Moving on.. IYO, what is the most underutilized on-page SEO technique?

JP: Video, when done right adds a whole new layer of content opportunities to on-page SEO. Not only does it have a huge boost to conversion and other KPIs, you can add internal links, transcripts, comments and more. The other huge benefit to video SEO is syndicating those videos; it’s a strong way to start dominating the SERP real estate. The search engines want to rank video and image content on their pages, doing on-page video right can add so much more value.

Gonzo: Do you think video games play a role in SEO as in training, workflow, resource management..etc?

JP: I think games, not particularly video games, add a huge component to learning, competition, problem solving, cooperation, strategy and other skills that are essential not only in business, but in marketing. I think people who play games (a demographic differentiation from “gamers”) are more likely to notice patterns, are more likely to tackle problems creatively and in the case of any RPG player, those impromptu meetings, conference calls or requests can be viewed as a side-quest that branches off of the main quest. With SEO in particular, I tend to describe SEO as the perfect mix of semantics and technology. With a gamer’s mindset, I can manipulate the semantics, supported by technology to try to achieve the desired result. Games like Angry Birds reinforce this attitude. You try, you try again and each failure brings you a bit closer to a win. Sometimes, it’s changing the trajectory, other times it’s getting the timing just right. SEO has dozens of these little factors that can impact the result and turning the dial on each of these factors can get anyone closer to the goal.

Gonzo: Do you think smaller brands get SEO and social more than larger ones?

JP: I see an encouraging trend of smaller brands being more agile and responsive for their SEO and social marketing compared to their mega-corp counterparts.

Larger companies tend to have worked very hard to build their brand, they have brand standards, they have a voice and they have the reach to segment their voice to different audiences. For companies like these, they can fall into an easy trap where they think that social media is primarily a media distribution channel. This way, they can control what’s put out and their brand integrity is maintained. What they really fail to realize is that social media channels are more for listening and responding to real people than another way to pump commercials. There are a lot of hurdles and a greater risk for larger companies to be open on social networks.

Smaller companies tend to be much more agile with their social media. Their mistakes, if not completely epic, go relatively unnoticed and they live to try again. Social media for smaller companies relies on communicating with their fans where they can reward a fan base for their support.

With SEO, the same principle can apply. With larger companies, the best SEO changes can encounter resistance because IT doesn’t completely buy into it, the platform doesn’t support the change request or they want to proceed a bit safer by running small scale tests before any large scale implementation. I’m not here to say that one is better than the other, it’s just a noticeable difference in my experiences with larger and smaller companies. Right now, I’m working through a large scale test with Performance Bicycle’s website regarding to SEO. I’m collecting data, reviewing results and taking into account user experience and reaction. With a great team behind me that’s bought into the experiment, and an already large sample size of data I can collect, it’s a great experience.

Gonzo: What portion of your job as an SEO requires educating and at what point of resistance do you move on

JP: About 20% of my position is education. It’s common knowledge now that SEO is a critical aspect to your online marketing strategy. However, unless you’re a total SEO nerd, you probably won’t be up to date on the details. When Google released Panda, there was a lot of Panda-based discussions internally and I had to assure people that what we were doing wasn’t going to be affected by Panda. I regularly do SEO “lunch and learns” at the company to educate people and I’m always in the offices of our merchants and development teams giving perspective. It’s a great role to be in. It’s challenging and there are always obstacles, but the time to move on is not from any lack of understanding, but when I start getting really excited and go “SEO geek” on people who don’t have the same technical expertise as I do.

Gonzo: Who do you read for info on marketing in general?

JP: There’s so many good ones to mention that this would end up turning into a list. Search Engine Watch, Raven’s Blog, SEO by the Sea, Ian Lurie’s Conversation Marketing and so much more. However, I’m finding myself relying more and more on Twitter to give me the articles I’m interested. I follow a lot of really smart people who post cool things. Oh man, how could I forget SEOMoz, SE Land and SEO Book?

Gonzo: Are there certain things you turn to for inspiration or epiphanies when you get stumped?

JP: I stare at the computer until my forehead bleeds. I also listen to industrial music, which makes my ears bleed. In the end, it’s all about getting to the point where you have some sort of grievous head wound.

Gonzo: Best video game marketing of 2011?

JP: So far, the best video game marketing has been by Dead Island. A game about zombies on a resort island seemed a bit passé when I first heard of it and I’d relegated it to another “meh” zombie game. Then I saw the trailer and it blew my mind. Since this site is called “Gonzo SEO” I feel that I can get away with a bit of profanity by saying, “holy fuckballs” that Dead Island trailer blew my mind. That one trailer turned a game that I had planned on ignoring into a game that I absolutely had to get.

Gonzo: What manufacturer has innovated video game marketing in 2011?

JP: Manufacturer is kind of a misnomer in the games industry, but Markus “Notch” Persson and his company Mojang has blown everyone away with Minecraft. They’re really showing that an indie game done well, using the principles of giving value, attention and feedback to their players can revolutionize game marketing and do the right things while maintaining your credibility and profitability.

Gonzo: What did you think of GameStop pulling the Onlive vochers from Deus Ex HR?

JP: Well, now that GameStop has announced that they’re getting into the platform business with their Android tablet, it makes sense why they wanted to screw the consumer. It was blatantly anti-competitive, anti-consumer and pretty much evil. However, while I hate what they did, it makes sense in a self-absorbed protectionist point of view. The problem is that gamers tend to have short term memories and when GameStop offers Assassin’s Creed with a special hat, people will overcome their distaste and buy from them.

Gonzo: Are there any essential tools you use in designing a SEO campaign?

JP: Xenu Link Sleuth, Google analytics, Google Webmaster Central, SEOMoz Linkscape Toolbar and I’m finding out that I am absolutely loving Raven Tools’ software and the more I learn about Garrett French’s link tools, I’m blown away.

Gonzo: What would you suggest reading for new video game maketers and affiliates?

JP: Of course, other than Set on Stun, Gamasutra, Ars Technica and The Escapist Magazine are great sites that deal with the marketing and business aspects of video game. I also listen to The Joystiq Podcast as it gives a great perspective on the industry.

Gonzo: Any reco’s on how to balance time to play and time to work, seems like it would be more difficult w/ viddy games

JP: If there’s a good way to balance time to play and time to work, I haven’t found the right mix yet. I work all day, come home, take care of the kids, when the kids go to bed, I work on my blog and sometimes I have time to play games. It’s tough. However, it’s absolutely essential to find time to do the things you enjoy. Now that I’m also riding my bike more, that’s cut into my game-play time. However, because it’s a thing that I love doing, I find myself scheduling game-time at night and taking advantage of the sparse time I have to actually play games. For me it comes down to priorities. I spend time with my family, make sure I do my job well, hang out with friends and be social, I ride bikes, go camping and in between those events, I play. For me, playing games isn’t one of my priorities since I have other, more rewarding activities, but when I do, I play the hell out of it. I don’t stress about completing games

Gonzo: Ideas on linkbait for video game marketing?

JP: For game companies, SEO isn’t a huge concern. However, on the media end of the spectrum, gaining traffic on the hugely time-sensitive search spikes on games accounts for a massive amount of their traffic and success. When games are announced or there’s a huge buzz around them, you cannot go wrong with clever mashup videos, infographics or articles about the top ten things you learned from the first incarnation of that game. There are so many game blogs, forums and sites dedicated to games, you have a ready-made market that’s obsessed with promoting the newest meme or clever thing.

There’s a weird little thing about gamers and going viral among that group. They constantly want to see three things.

  1. The same thing they’ve always seen (top 10/ list based content).
  2. Recontextualized content. Star Wars + Cthulhu, Halo + Hello Kitty
  3. Something inflammatory that simultaneously polarizes and sometimes entertains the community.

Gonzo: Something like this? Worse or better? ….. Problem, JP?