Interview with Chris Burns, cofounder of SERPd

Chris BurnsThis is an interview with Chris Burns. Chris is one of the co-founders of SERPd and President of Florida based SEO & design firm BURN SEO. He enjoys staying on the front lines of the internet optimization and marketing industry and sharing his knowledge with anyone who can benefit from it. Follow Chris on Twitter

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In this interview we have with us Chris Burns, cofounder of the new SEO community called SERPd. Thank you for accepting the invitation Chris. Let’s begin with some questions concerning the new fast growing SEO/Online Marketing community that you launched few months ago and then continue with questions concerning the recent changes and the future of Search Engine Marketing.

1. Why did you name the new SEO community “SERPd”? What is the meaning of the word?

SERPd was an act actionized version of the term SERP (Search Engine Results Page). So we wanted to turn the term SERP into an action by giving it a d. SERPd is about sharing ideas and creating discussion about how to maximize your SERP results so what better name could we use that making that term into a verb. Now people want to share their stories and get others to SERPd it! We do have an explanation of this on our about us page, but I don’t think very many people actually have read it. :)

2. Why did you prefer to keep the Voting model instead of switching to the editorial model? What are the challenges that you faced due to this decision?

Great question. Many people have and will continue to say that the voting model is dead or dying. In fact you can see evidence of this in sites going under or discontinuing the usage of this model. Propeller is no more and Digg is suffering terribly. Sphinn removed the model completely last year and switched to an editorial style. We recognized that there are advantages of having an editorial style site, but in reality you will never really be able to create a community around it. You are getting a glorified blog that allows guest posts when you move in this direction.

We wanted to ensure the spirit of community is upheld for the SEO & Internet marketing professionals. There are certainly challenges that come along with choosing this path, most of which have been well documented by those that have come before us. We have seen spammers, voting gangs, comment trolls, and just generally jealous people complaining about other’s success. Yes these things cause us headaches. Yes these things are a real problem with the voting model. We don’t deny that, instead we embrace it. When people coming to SERPd were trying to use it as a bookmarking site for their own blog stories only, we quickly implemented a change that would only allow them to submit one time from a single domain. If the story hit the front page, then yes we allow you to submit your next story from that same domain, but if it does not, we require you to submit a story from a different domain than your previous one. This has forced those self promoters to look at other sources of content in their niche, which is good for them, good for us, and good for the site. These are the types of things we will do as problems grow out of control, but for the most part we want the community to have the final say on content.

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One of the most common complaints you hear with any voting site is that some of the content submitted is not “quality” content or that it has been seen before. This is the type of thing that we will never change our position on. The heart of voting communities is to let the community decide what is good content and what is not. Our moderator staff is trained to weed out and remove any content that is truly not appropriate for SERPd. If a story is submitted that is about Viagra or Sports teams, well those are not stories that belong on our site. We want content that relates to our niche, but we are not going to take an editorial approach and tell our users what is good and what is bad with regard to our niche. We want all that content submitted, because there are many different levels of experience that people that come to our site have. Some of our users are beginner bloggers trying to understand SEO. Others may be small business owners that are trying to learn tips on what they can do to improve their business sites. The vast majority is moderate to high level professionals, and so no matter what content you submit to SERPd, as long as it is on topic, there is going to be an audience for it. We are now working on a system where content can be rated based on it’s level of complexity. We need to finish thinking through how this will be implemented, whether it’s the users or the moderators that will assign the level (beginner, moderate, advanced for example) to the content that’s submitted… but it’s another way that we are looking to find a long term solution to a problem that plagues the voting model.

We truly believe that there is still an appetite by users to make this model work, and we are committed to seeing it through. As long as the users continue to join up and participate, we will be here to try to make their experience as useful and rewarding as possible. Another topic that is coming up lately is the down voting button. When we created SERPd we made a decision not to include a down vote button because it was just too negative in our view. At the time we decided that we would rather people just not vote if they don’t like a story, or leave a comment about what they don’t like about it rather than actually down voting it. Lately people have been asking about it more and more. I would expect to see a public poll in the near future so that we can get a good feel for how widespread the desire is for a down vote option in our community. If it’s something they want, we will give it to them. We may require a comment or a reason if they want to down vote so that it remains constructive to the writers and the submitters, but we will always look to move in the direction the community desires, after all… we are here for them and them only.

One of the blessings and also banes of our situation is that we do not have any corporate sponsorship. Gerald Weber and myself created this site 100% on our own no monetary investment from any party. We are not looking to get rich off the site either. From the beginning we have kept our focus on the users. Every decision we make has them in mind. Now it’s great we can make decisions that benefit the community without having to worry about a drive to monetize the site, but at the same time resources are limited and so we have to pick and choose which development projects we take on carefully.

3. Did the SEO professionals welcome the new community?

You know I feel like they did. If you just look at the moderator staff of SERPd I think you will really see a group of high level professionals that are actively working in the SEO community giving up their time to help volunteer to moderator our site. I think that speaks volumes about the acceptance by the SEO community. It’s not just the SEO community either, we have been receiving some good exposure and volunteer help by professional bloggers and internet marketers too. Because they blog about us, we have a healthy amount of these types of professionals that are able to get exposure to our SEO content which really is a benefit to them as well.

We are always open to feedback by the community and if anyone reading this in the SEO community has used the site, we would really welcome their honest feedback as it’s the best way to improve it.

4. As far as I know you are doing quite interesting things on SERPd. Tell us a few things about the SERPd show. What other surprises do you have on the near future?

Yes we are! I’m glad you asked this question. When you hear “another” voting site is in place, you may not get very excited, but we are looking to take our niche community to a different level. Up to this point we have been trying to ensure the basic functionality is in place and working flawlessly. Some of the features we have implemented up to now include:

  • Ability to follow/un follow users
  • RSS feed for each users activity
  • RSS feeds for virtually any category and content type on the site
  • Up voting and down voting comments
  • Personal blogs for each user which can be commented on by other users
  • Top users displayed on front page (we show the most active users of the site looking at the trailing 30 days only). This means anyone, even new users can get on this list if they are active on the site.
  • Widgets and badges. We have our own SERPd WordPress plugin which can be found in the WP repository as well as being included in the DiggDigg plugin.
  • At this time, all links on the site are do-followed. There are obvious benefits to having your content on SERPd :)
  • We do have a weekly roundup on our blog which is and editorial view by the staff of the best posts we saw for the week. Users that submit and the links to the stories are included
  • We allow guest posting on our blog
  • We have a weekly web show where users can actual live broadcast with us and even be invited to be a guest. We have industry professionals as well as submitters and writers of content submitted to SERPd on the web show “I SERPd it on the Web”.
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We do have some exciting new events and features we are working on for the community. I can’t give away too much right now, but here is a taste:

  • Looking at addition of down voting
  • Looking at ways to rank content by professional level
  • A very exciting SEO contest is on the horizon. There will be some bragging rights as well as real prizes involved for SEO’s willing to put their skills to the test against their peers!
  • Considering an award system
  • Looking to further expand our community participation in the weekly web casts shows in some exciting ways

There are some big projects we really wanted to do, but just haven’t had time to do. For example we wanted to implement a really robust Wiki aimed strictly at the SEO and internet marketing crowd, but the man power to do this correctly is just beyond us at this point. Without some willing volunteers, big projects like this will have to sit on the back burner while we integrate things that are going to be widely used by the community.

5. Managing an online community must be a pretty difficult and time consuming job. How can the members of the community contribute?

You got that right! You really have to have a passion for your niche and be able to set your ego aside if you want to have an online community that will thrive. It’s incredibly time consuming when you take into account the blogs, the roundups, the weekly web cast show preparation and implementation, and the moderation of the site. Considering every single person involved with the site has a day job that pays their bills and families in off hours, we are always on the lookout for community members that are willing to pitch in and help in any way. Some of the things we can really use volunteer work for include:

  • PHP Programming
  • SEO Wiki volunteers
  • Site Moderators with SEO experience and any moderation experience
  • Blog writers
  • Graphics Designers

If you are in the SEO/Internet marketing niche and you have any time you can donate, we want to talk to you! Send us a mail to support [AT] serpd [DOT] com

6. Let’s discuss the recent changes on Search Engine Marketing. How do you think the SEO industry changed the last couple of years?

Well that’s an easy answer… YES. But I suspect you probably want me to elaborate more on this, lol. I think we have seen bigger changes in the last 2 years than we have seen in quite a long time. Social media and mobile usage has really added whole new dimensions to search engine marketing. If you’re an old school SEO link builder and you’re not staying on top of trends in social media, mobile, and local SEO changes… your future is bleak. Not only are old SEO methods largely obsolete, but your clients are going to be expecting you to understand and fully utilize these new internet marketing methods. I’m not ashamed to say that I have learned quite a bit since launching SERPd by reading stories submitted by the users. Having all my SEO stories aggregated in one place is a great benefit to me, and hopefully to others.

7. Do you believe that Bing will ever be able to threaten Google’s dominance?

It’s very difficult for me to see a way that any company is going to be able to threaten Google at this stage of the game. Unless something really revolutionary happens, there is just no way that I see Bing or any other search engine even coming close to touching Google’s dominance. They are now firmly ingrained in the culture of the internet all around the world. It’s not just the web either, they are into phones, TV, Cars, email, document management… it’s just unstoppable. For too many people around the world Google is their portal to information on the web. I fear Google will be the sign on the space ship as we all sail out into the universe and Wally is left cleaning up our mess back on earth, lol.

8. What are your thoughts concerning the new search engine called Blekko? They certainly have some very innovative features but do you believe that they can ever get a good market share?

I know that Blekko has gained some traction with some of our users. I see them commenting and always comparing Google to it, however I am not an active user. The slash tag idea is great and it’s something that sets them apart, and this is what is going to be required to gain any market share. No average user has any interest in trying out a new search engine when Google is already meeting all their needs. People like you and I and our friends in the SEO community can try them and get hooked on them all day long, but in the end the average user really has no reason to move away from Google. I truly hope that Blekko experiences a surge in users and gains some popularity, but a threat to Google it will never be.

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9. Focusing on Search Engines vs Focusing on Users? Where do you stand on this?

For me personally, I have never been one to get obsessed with one SEO strategy or another. I’ve always believed that a robust all encompassing approach to SEO is needed, because things that are popular to do today may not be tomorrow. Focusing on users is clearly becoming ever more important to SEO companies because Google is chasing the user behavior and the SEO companies are chasing Google. I truly believe that if you always have an eye on what users want and try to give it to them, you will be good to go. Google will eventually catch up with you if you do this. On the other hand, SEO is about manipulating the search engines and despite what Google may say, there are still some very “non user” specific things that NEED to be done in order to get a site to rank organically. I think it would be wise for SEO companies to always be chasing the user first and Google second rather than vise versa.

10. Where do you see SEO on the near future?

I think SEO is going to continue to bleed into new ground that traditional SEO’s will be uncomfortable with. Mobile usage is skyrocketing at exponential rates for example. Users are going to be using their phones for longer periods of time and for much more than they have in the past. SEO’s will have be ready to market to them there. QR codes and short codes are something not many SEO’s are familiar with today, but I suspect in the future it will be common for everyone to be utilizing them in their marketing strategies that encompass targeting offline marketing to bring them online. This is just one example of how SEO’s will have to evolve and increase their offerings in order to stay competitive. Companies are spending very big bucks compared to what they have spent historically on SEO & internet marketing. They are going to expect to get a lot more for their money than they have in the past as a consequence. SEO firms will need to be sure they have experts in many different marketing environments on board in order to compete. I think the trend in the future is that we will see more larger SEO firms being established and the sole proprietor working out of his home having a very hard time competing in the near future.

Chris thank you very much for your time. It was a very interesting inteview.

Do you have questions for Chris? Leave your comment below.

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