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Above The Fold!

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Interview of Shawn Hogan of Digital Point Solutions

30 June 2005

Shawn Hogan is the founder of Digital Point, a high end software development company which also developed some of the best free SEO tools on the market and one of the most active SEO forums. I recently interviewed him, and it goes like this...

What is your background and how & when did you get into the SEO scene?

I'm a developer. The main thing I like to do is develop things that are completely new ideas (preferably things that people tell me are impossible). My "real" work is developing high-end accounting/billing/business management software. For example:

http://www.digitalpoint.com/products/isp/

I'm not sure I would exactly say I'm in the "SEO scene" (I know maybe 4 people in the industry, I don't offer any services (SEO or otherwise), I don't go to trade shows/conferences, etc.)

I am usually pretty quick to discount Alexa, but when you are in the top 500 or so (like DigitalPoint.com is) that is impressive. Do you spend much on marketing your site, or does the traffic come through free referals?

I don't do any marketing for the site. It was less than 2 years ago when I first heard the term SEO or had any idea what search engine marketing was. And I had a distinct advantage because when I first heard the term PageRank, my site was PR7 with a few hundred thousand links (natural links from people linking to my billing software or whatever other stuff).

For about a week I tested the AdWords CPM ads, and your site had at least 5 times as many ad displays as any of the other forums I advertised on. Does most of your traffic come from the forums or tools? Do you think the traffic is much higher because you offer both?

I think the forums are getting close to passing up the free tools in terms of raw traffic. Funny because the main reason I started the forum was so people would stop calling and emailing me for support on the free tools. :)

But the forum has a lot of content at this point, so I get ~10,000 unique visitors a day coming into the forum from random search engine searches, some of which convert into normal users, and some of those end up turning into users of the tools as well.

Your free SEO tools are flat out best of breed. Why did you create them? How did you know what the market wanted / needed? Are you surprised at how well people responded to any of the tools? Are you surprised at any tools that did not take off quickly?

The tools I create are really just for my own use to make my own life easier. I just decided to let other's use them. :) The first tool was the keyword tracker, which really was thrown together in a morning because I wanted it for myself:

http://forums.seochat.com/showthread.php?t=5281

Of course, I never expected the keyword tracker (or any of the others) to be so popular. I made it for myself, and thought maybe if I let others use it, maybe a few hundred others would use it (at the most), and now it's past 30,000 users tracking just under 750,000 keywords.

I'm not surprised people like the tools, but I am surprised how big they have gotten so quickly without any marketing what-so-ever on my part. I guess "If you build it, they will come." applies in this case. hehe

One thing that's really nice about having such a large active user base (from tools and forum) is now I can make something new, and instantly have a ton of users (the ad network for example was launched and was live on thousands of sites within a week with no outside marketing).

Your cooperative link network spread faster than any other SEO network I have ever seen. Does it still work well in most of the engines? Is there anything you would have done differently with it if you started it over today?

Well believe it not, the intention of the ad network was never to be a link network. Some reading about what the intentions and purpose of it can be found here:

http://www.digitalpoint.com/tools/ad-network/history.html

And I would say more than half the new sites joining are joining for the traffic from the ads themselves and not the secondary benefit of links (it would be much more except my site happens to have a lot of SEOs on it, so...)

To further expand on the true advertising aspect of it, I added impression tracking charts per ad. And have been experimenting with some other stuff as well (geo-targetting end users down to the city level, etc.) Ultimately something like AdWords/AdSense (contextual advertising) that is completely free of charge would be nice.

Some SEO forums have a group voice, where they emphasize that it is ok to talk about this, you can't link to that, or wrong to talk about that. When I think of your forums I don't really notice that. I also notice that some people who were banned from other forums became contributors to Digital Point. Is that openness by accident, or did you intentionally design your forums that way?

It's intentional... Partially because I don't think a forum that censors things is worth much of anything, and partially because it's much less work for moderators/administrators to try to clear every little thing as "acceptable".

When you started your SEO forums what were the biggest pitfalls or problems? Did you run into any great surprises?

The biggest problem is that it grew so quickly I had to switch it off the server I put it on to a different one 45 days into it, but that's about it. I'm all about automating everything... the less need for humans, then better IMO. Things that can be automated (like signature guideline compliance) is done so with code rather than a crew of moderators reviewing everything. At this point I really only have one moderator, and that was mostly done because he happened to be in the forum a lot, so I just gave him the ability to move threads that were in the wrong forum and delete threads that were spam that he happened to run across.

Have plans to make any more cool SEO tools?

I never had "plans" for any of the others. They all went from a random idea to being live within 36 hours, so...

I'm sure there will be more tools, but I have to think of something else I need/want for myself first. :)

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thanks for the interview Shawn. If you want to learn more about Shawn, Digital Point, or his tools, here are some links:

- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info

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