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Interview of NFFC, Sexy SEO God

July 16, 2005

I have been a long time fan of the mysterious NFFC. He makes rather witty posts on SEO forums and blogs and has a way of seeing the big picture in an industry where most people are overly short sighted and reactive.

NFFC is an ex WMW admin, the man who named the Google updates and one of the coconspirators behind SEO Roadshow [check out there new blog for updates about this septembers event], and has probably helped me on the web more than any other person. I asked to interview him and he said sure. And so, as it goes, it went like this...

How & when did you get into search?

In to search itself 1995, the good old days of AltaVista [now that was a mans search engine!]. In to manipulating search engines for fun and profit late 1999.

What's with the nickname?

A very commonly asked question believe it or not. Some contend it is because I am a huge Mickey mouse fan (www.nffc.org), others that I am a farmer (www.nffc.net), the truth....well its not hard to work out, just answer this simple question. Which football club represents the City with the smallest population ever to win the European Cup?

How many times did you win the European Cup?

Not once but twice, back to back. Welling up thinking about it, that team could play in the snow and not leave a footprint.

I was told they used to be good but now their football team is bad, and they have huge deer. Is this true?

True, apart from the deer, but rule number 1, never ever give up. We will be back once again, stronger than ever.

Football is competitive. So is SEO. If a term is competitive does it mean there is money to be made there?

Yes and no. The pie may be bigger but realistically you may get a smaller piece of it. Having said that I have yet to meet a good SEO who cares about the money, the thrill is in the fight and the best fights are usually in the most competitive keyword spaces.

Its real simple, if you sell widgets you want to rank for the core term, remember what we deal in is marketing on demand, we need to deliver our message whenever, wherever and how ever the user requests it.

What tips and techniques do you have for finding profitable niches and ideas that work well on the web? Do they have to match your personality or interests, or can you make money off anything?

As WebGurrilla said on Webmaster Radio.fm just last night, for a project to interest him he has to like the people, like what they are offering, get a buzz of doing the work. I think that's the best way to work, to me SEO isn't a mechanical process its an emotional process and because if that I have to be fully committed.

Do you see SEO as a business model that scales, or works best with a few strong relationships?

I don't see any scaleabilty to be honest, the best service a client will get will be from "the proprietor" him/her self. Bringing in a bunch of marketing graduates won't improve the offering, it goes the other way. I have yet to see an SEO "scale" without falling to bits. Just look at WebSourced.

What was the worst mistake you made with a client?

Believing a single word they said.

I believe you moved away from SEO services and into doing SEO for yourself. What made you decide to do that? How did you find a merchant that you could partner up well with?

Well its a long story but to cut it short...I snagged a client, charged them $25,000 up front and did the work in a week. Boy did I think I was one smart cookie. By the years end they had done $5 million worth of business off that work, at that point I felt kinda dumb!

We don't partner with merchants, we form a business and source and/or manufacture the products themselves, the whole nine yards from raw materials to after sales service.

Odds are that if a person is going to hire an SEO they are not going to find someone like you. Can SEO be outsourced? What should people look for when hiring an SEO?

It's very tough out there for people looking for SEO's, the main reason being that most clients are lazy. There are not many businesses out there where the internet could not be playing a very significant role in their operations, they need to get with the program and put some work in researching.

Oddly enough not all SEO's go my route, some of the best guys like the lone wolf contracting life but the only way you are going to get one of those is by a referral. In short, if you don't know a good SEO it is very difficult to find one.

Does a business need to do well off the web to do well on the web? What are the biggest differences between doing business off the web and on the web?

I think its just a question of commitment, I used to say to brick and mortar business looking to go on the web "imagine you are opening a new real store, just give this "virtual" one 10% of the time, 10% of the investment and 100% of the commitment that you would a real store and you will be a huge success.

The biggest difference is that somebody with little money but lots of ambition can become a huge success, that's very difficult to do offline, increasingly difficult online but still just achievable nowdays.

Not too long ago I do not think I had much credibility. Then out of nowhere NickW posted a question wondered what people thought of my ebook. You said "I splashed out, well worth it" and then it seemed as though many people thought of me as good. How did you get that level of credibility? Why did you trust me & decide to help me?

I am not sure I have that level of credibility but I like to think I do what I say I'm going to do, we follow that through in the ecom business too.

Regarding the book, no doubt its a good book, but what came through to me was your "connection to the web". I think fewer and fewer people seem to LOVE the www these days, I got the love vibe from your book and that bodes well for the long term usefulness of it.

I used to sell my ebook at half of its current price. I did not want to raise it. You bitched at me until I did. Thanks for that, but why did you believe I should charge twice as much as I was?

People associated price with quality, it was a quality product and should have a higher price. The dumbest person in the world should be able to get a ROI at its current price, I still think its too cheap.

Sometimes you say some fairly forward looking stuff in the SEO forums or on instant messenger. How do you see search in such a forward looking manner, and how do you see it changing? Will it still be possible for me to sell this ebook in 5 years, or should I look for another business model? Will people new to the web be able to do SEO in 5 years? Or do you see SEO shifting from algorithm focus to focusing on human emotion and human interaction and holistic marketing?

Well I'm not one of the SEO is dead crowd for sure, personally I think it is stronger than ever. Maybe the SEO firm as a business model is under some pressure, but not SEO itself.

This is what I think, SEO is all about emotions, all about human interaction. People, search engineers even, try and force it into a numbers box.

Numbers, math and formulas are for people not smart enough to think in concepts.

If you worked at a search engine what are the biggest things you would change with how they evaluate link authority and overall search relevancy scores?

I would look to give good things a boost and stop focusing on finding bad things to penalise.

Many sites are constructed and then people wonder what sets them apart afterwards. How do you know when an idea fits the web? How do you develop a web friendly brand?

I think the best brands, the best sites have a large portion of their founders personality in them. Never be afraid to be yourself, after all there are 1/2 billion people on the www, not all of them have to agree with you. Concentrate on the ones that share your views, concentrate on making their experience the very best it can be, the rest forget them.

Or to put it another way, the best sites say - this is what we do, this is how we do it, if you don't like it go somewhere else.

Ultimately though I think it comes down to desire and the will to win. There was a post over at sew recently, some guy whining that he was getting beat silly in the serps by some old established sites. He was whining that they were doing x and so was he, they were doing y and so was he, they were doing z and so was he.

He didn't have the right attitude to succeed on the web. When you go up against those big established sites you really have to be committed and go the extra mile. If you want to world champion you have to fight the best in their own back yard, its no use being as good or even a little better, you have to knock them spark out to get the decision.

Should most businesses have more than one website? If so what would be good reasons to run multiple sites, and also what problems do people run into when working on multiple sites?

I can only tell you what we do. We have less sites than we did 4 years ago and about 90% less than we planned for 4 years ago. I think a webmaster is faced with a much more challenging environment than they were a few years back, it would be wise to concentrate those limited resources.

Having said that marketing needs to play a big role in the decision making process. The muti-channel approach works well offline, it works even better online. The only thing I would say is if you can't sum up the differences in the sites in one sentence then maybe you should just have the one.

The days of greenwidgets.com redwidgets.com et al are long gone, for a serious internet business.

Long term viability...which is better, SEO or pay per click? and why? Should people do both?

Both for sure, remember we offer marketing on demand, a webmaster needs to be visible in every channel. All sites should at least start with some PPC, after all a 5 year old can grasp it.

Long term, you need to weave yourself into the fabric of the web, only SEO of the two choices will achieve that.

When I started I pretty much could not afford PPC. IMHO it is still possible to go without, but missing out on that fast market research is a heavy tax on your time to save a few cents.

Well, and don't think this too harsh, but if you can't beg steal or borrow a few $100 to buy an ebook and whilst learning start a small time PPC campaign then you have no place on the COMMERCIAL web.

What are the best web marketing avenues to rely on outside of search?

Friends.

What books would you recommend people new to the web read? What other things should new webmasters do before they launch and shortly after they launch their sites?

I think they should read as much as they can, I particularly like the dot com story books, some fascinating reads about ebay, amazon, boo.com can learn a lot through those. Your book would be on my list too of course. I think it also depends on what type of site it is, if its an ecom site for example, try and sell some stuff on ebay, get a feel for the customers and the demand/pricing levels for the product.

I am sorta surprised I got you to type all that. You usually tend to be able to say a bunch using very few words. Was there a book you read on that, or where did that ability come from?

It's natural.

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Thanks for the interview NFFC.

If you would like to meet NFFC in person you may want to check out the free-form networking SEO Roadshow Saturday September 10th, 2005.

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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