Interview with Mikkel DeMid Svendsen

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In this latest installment of interviews with individuals in the Internet Marketing community, I’m very happy to share an interview with Mikkel DeMib Svendsen, Many of you may know Mikkel as the fellow in the bright orange suit at conferences around the world. That’s his branding, just like Rand’s yellow shoes.

Some people assail Mikkel as a massive black-hat SEO. Some admire his continuing success at “cracking the code.” No matter which side of the fence you sit on in the black hat vs. white hat debate, there’s no question that Mikkel makes valuable contributions to the debate.

My experience with Mikkel, regardless of opinions on the debate, is that he’s incredibly forthright; he is very honest in sharing his opinion, and I respect what he has to say. There’s a lot we can all learn from his experiences; (good and bad). Plus he’s a good guy to share a beer with during conferences.

Q. Mikkel, how long have you been working with SEO / SEM ?

Since 96/97

Q. What’s been your favorite technique that you can no longer use due to algorithmic changes at Google?

There are not any key components that I can’t use. Some just doesn’t work as well as they used to. Things change all the time. Many of the things Google have been claiming to fight have just been made more difficult leaving out the less competent SEOs from that part of the game. No filtering is perfect, no machine is without bugs, and creative human minds can always break an algorithm J

Q. Has Google (or any other engine) ever made an algorithm change which made you very happy?

All the time! In fact, that’s an important part of this job — staying ahead of development. I spend a great deal of time researching and trying to understand where search engines are going, so when they do go there I have been ready for it for some time and adopted my strategies to it.

Q.If you could get Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask to each answer just one question about their algorithms, what would it be?

Can I have a copy?

No, actually, I can’t think of one thing to ask. First of all I think I have a pretty good understanding of what I need to know to manipulate search pretty well. And that might, in fact, not always be the same knowledge that a search engineer has. He knows how to build it. I know how to break it down, so to speak. Even though we are talking about the same machine, the two trades are very different.

Also, remember, I used to manage a rather large local search engine before I went into SEO full time. Back then we licensed FAST and I had almost full access to all classified documents back then. Later I became the VP of Product Development for a very advanced enterprise search firm. So I have had a lot of time around some of the best skilled search engineers in my time. That helps too

Q. Why analytics are important to you?

Man! There are a million of different numbers that are important depending on the situation. Off cause the basics of how your visitors are super important. Next I want to be able to zoom into macro and micro steps of various action paths and be able to segment those users in various ways.Being an SEO I also like to be able to dig deeper into the best possible knowledge about my organic search visitors.

Depending on what kind of work I am doing I may look at stats several times a day — at other times I don’t look for weeks.

The most important thing I tell my clients about analytics is the limitations of what they can do: All they can do is report data to you in a nice format — the rest is up to you! You have to understand the numbers and what is good or bad in them. Next you have to figure out how to use limit the bad you you find and the same time as you keep the good. Then implement that, track it and look again. If you do not analyze analytics and take some real actions on your findings you better not waste your money on analytics at all!

Q. What do none of the analytics tools do that you would want them to for you? (yes, this question is self-serving)

I usually just build what I need if I can’t find it

The biggest problem I have now, is really the same as I do with much on the web — it’s just not good enough! The web has to be better, faster, be more intuitive and have more easy-to-use features etc. But its understandable. The web is still so young. And it feels that way too. Like driving a car from the 20’s.

You participate in a lot of conferences worldwide. Which one stands out?

For the past several years it has definitely been SES. I’ve been loyal to this conference ever since Danny founded it and invited me to speak. WebmasterWorld’s conferences has also been good, sometimes, but the organisational team behind it has just never been as good as the SES conference team.

Q. How is optimization different in Europe from North America?

The main difference is that in the US almost everyone focuses and competes on just one market - in Europe we have to compete in many markets. This, and the fact that in each market there are a lot less companies competing, makes the biggest difference. This means that there are so many more “low hanging fruit” here — it’s up to you to find them. Also, it has been, and still is, a lot easier in Europe (especially outside the main languages) to get away with creative black hat SEO

One thing I’d like to say to your US readers, though, is one very important fact that a lot of Americans do not appear familiar with: There IS no Europe! Europe only exists on paper and in geography lessons. From a political or geographical point of view there is a Europe - but from a human, market and not the least marketing point of view there is no Europe, and there are no Europeans. Unlike the Americans we don’t “feel” European the way most Americans feel American. There are French, Germans and Danes - but no Europeans! We don’t share any common languages, religions, music, traditions, or laws. We are in fact very, very different, and distinct from one state to the next across Europe.

When I discuss this with Americans many say, yes, but the different states in the USA are also distinct. It’s not like the same. The difference between Greece and Denmark is more like the difference between Colombia and Denmark! And France is a chapter on its own

An example I often use to illustrate this to fellow marketers and SEO’s is a very simple situation I once had. I was the manager of the search engine in Denmark on Scandinavia’s largest portal (Scandinavia Online - SOL) covering Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Once, in Denmark, we produced promotional cigarette lighters, you know, like so many companies do (in Europe). It was a a lighter with our logo printed on it designed to be passed on to anyone. In Denmark, like most other countries, this is a very common promotional device. However, when they saw this at our main office in Norway they got furious! In Norway, apparently, no one do that. It’s like telling people to smoke, in their mind. Totally unethical in Norway, completely normal in Denmark! This illustrates differences that exist between Norway and Denmark, and we used to be one country up until not so long ago! Imagine how much more different we are to French, Spanish, Italians or Greeks .

Thanks Mikkel!

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