Last week, I reviewed Dan's "Search Engine Fast Start" ebook, which I liked, but which left me with many questions. (If you missed the review you can read it here.) I figured the best way to get my questions answered was to interview the man himself. So without further ado, here it is:

Jill: With numerous ebooks and special reports about search engine optimization on the market, what would you say your main reason for writing your ebook was?

Dan: The main reason for writing "Search Engine Fast Start" (SEFS) was that none of the other books I have seen provide any kind of step-by-step instructions that a novice could follow. There are things I know about optimization that aren't in the book, because I wanted something that would let the reader see results quickly.

There are bigger, more expensive books out there for the full-time SEO professional. I just want to make all of the part-time amateurs dangerously competent, to where they don't have to be afraid of the professionals, because there's always a niche where you can position your site and get good traffic.

Jill: Would you call this book a "tell all" on how to optimize for high rankings in the search engines? Or is it something else?

Dan: Telling *everything* is not necessarily the best way to teach this stuff, because a lot of folks just give up. Or worse, they try keyword stuffing and other spam tricks (after paying good money for these "insider secrets"), get caught and then they're shut out completely.

There are a lot of things I know about SEO that aren't in the book, but readers get access to that knowledge when they email me for support. Ninety percent of the time, though, that extra knowledge is almost useless.

It's the 80/20 rule - give me 80% of the traffic, with 20% of the effort, so my site becomes a success, then let me decide if I want to put in the other 80% of the effort to get the other 20% of the results. Other books just don't do that - they may give you "the whole story," but you don't know where to start.

Jill: What are the main ideas you try to get across in the ebook?

Dan: The central ideas of SEFS are as follows:

1. More keywords, more content, more traffic. Identify *all* the words that apply to your site, and organize at least some of your content around them, targeting your audience.

2. Optimize the pages that need to be optimized with a 5-minute formula. Target one primary search term per page, do your optimization and then leave it alone.

3. Efficiently work on "off the page" factors, and don't ever stop doing this because it brings in traffic on its own in addition to helping with your search engine strategy.

4. Finally, organizing your site into themes if you have the time. If you've done your homework on keywords and positioning, the theme sort of comes together organically.

Jill: I know that "theme-based" SEO was a hot topic a year or two ago, but I don't hear about it as much as I used to. Does this technique continue to work as well as it did in the past, or has its day come and gone?

Dan: The short answer to your question is YES, it still works. In fact, it works better than ever, especially at Google. I find that spending less time on optimization and more time on linkage and promotion (not to mention *never* submitting) has driven results I would not have seen otherwise.

If you read the academic literature, which is where the future of search engines is being written, you'll see that themes, by whatever name, are going to become more important over time, not less. Like a lot of things, though, it was over-hyped for a while.

Jill: Dan, since you mention your own site, Website Promotion Central (WSPC), in your ebook, and use it as an example of theme-based SEO, I did some checking in Google and had a hard time finding your site. I'm sure many others who read your book would like to know why this might be. Can you fill us in?

Dan: Website Promotion Central was ranked as high as #2 on Google for "website promotion." Then it was banned from Google because we offered a minor incentive for folks to link to us. We had originally thought that our 2-week traffic test with LinksToYou was the problem, and that's actually the story that's in the book, because it took so long for Google to answer.

[Jill's note: That's an interesting comment about incentive-based linking getting the site banned, and something very important to keep in mind for anyone who might think that's a good way to get links.]

WSPC was in the top ten *everywhere* at that point, but after 18 months of not working on links, it's slipped a bit: #2 at Direct hit, #3 at Hotbot, #8 at MSN, #11 at Lycos/FAST, off the map at AltaVista. This is a big emphasis in my book that you have to keep working on links and doing basic site promotion. Usually even 15 minutes a week is enough to maintain your position., where the SEFS "sales letter" lives, is ranked at #106 on Google (it's floating around the top ten at Yahoo) for "search engine optimization." It should rise in the top 20-30 sites for that search term soon, but if it goes up into the top ten -- well, I hope it doesn't go that high. I don't think a sales letter should ever outrank sites (like that have a lot of good content. [Jill's comment: LOL, good suck-up!]

Jill: Personally, I feel that there's not much sense in optimizing a site for extremely competitive search phrases since they won't bring in the most targeted visitors. But there are others who do attempt this type of SEO. How well does your strategy work for very competitive search terms, and what's your take on whether to bother with general keyword phrases?

Dan: When I first discovered this system, it was by focusing on a very competitive search term, "website promotion." But as I learned from that experience, generic search terms are not the right focus.

It doesn't matter where we are for the most competitive search term -- for my site, what matters is that I already have over 100 search terms in my logs for this month.

The goal isn't necessarily to hit the top ten for the least targeted search term (getting 1,000 hits a day from people who searched for "real estate" is a big load on your server, so unless you sell real estate nationwide or even worldwide, it's a very BAD search term to get traffic for).

If someone types in "search engine mastery" or "search engine optimization book," or "search engine 101," those are the type of searches I'm interested in, because they're ready for what I have to offer. If I showed up in the top ten for the more generic search, then the search engine needs to be fixed because is a sales letter, not a content site. Someday maybe my newsletter would merit that kind of ranking, but not the sales letter.

Jill: It seems to me that your approach would work best for very large sites. Is this true, in your opinion?

Dan: This approach works for sites that are one page, up to hundreds of pages. The more content and the more keywords, the more searches you'll show up on. A really effective implementation leads to thousands of search phrases showing up in the logs each month.

Jill: What about using multiple domains? You mention that in the book, and that is something that I have been advocating against lately. What are your thoughts on these in this new "Google era" of clamping down on that sort of thing?

Dan: I almost wish I had left that out of the book. It was put in for "completeness" but I've already had to put out an update clarifying it. I don't really recommend it, even in the book. It only makes sense to split content when it makes sense to your visitors. is a good example - each domain in the network has its own Webmaster, etc.

To be completely clear, though, Google isn't cracking down on themed networks. What Google is doing is becoming more intelligent about how they compute PageRank, so that self-linking doesn't help you out like it used to. I think that's a very positive thing, because it prevents cheating by better-funded sites.

A big network of sites that are all linked to each other (like Webseed's 20,000 domain link pop farm that got them into trouble), is going to get some human attention from the "search quality" guy, but I don't advocate that kind of approach.

Jill: If someone purchases your ebook, is it pretty self-explanatory? Do you offer any kind of assistance when people have questions about your methods?

Dan: I spend, on average, about 7 minutes on email support for each copy sold, and half of the books I sell are sold after an initial email consultation that averages about 5-10 minutes. Those who take me up on the invitation end up developing a plan for their site with me, where we consider how much time they can invest and other factors.

I would really hope people would buy the book, then email me with their URL and let me know what they're planning to do and what their goals are. When they do that, I can tell them if they're on the right track. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they are, so that and customer feedback tells me that it's pretty self-explanatory. Less than a third of my customers use the email support, in spite of my efforts to reach more of them.

Jill: Some of the references to Excite and GoTo make the book seem a little dated. How are you handling updates?

Dan: I send out email updates directly to my customers when anything significant happens, like Excite going out of business (which happened a couple weeks after I released the first edition), but I haven't changed the book itself because people are usually printing it out, and replacing even a chapter throws the page numbering out of whack. I want to be able to refer folks to a particular page or chapter when we're doing support.

I prefer to think of this as an ongoing conversation that begins when they buy the book, or sometimes before they buy it, but it doesn't end just because I've been paid. I've got a second edition in the works for later this summer, and every copy includes a full year of updates, so people who buy it today will get that update, as well as the third edition next spring.

Jill: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Dan!

Anyone interested in learning how to put Dan's SEO techniques into action can purchase his ebook here. (Yep, that's my affiliate link.)
June 14, 2002

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ,, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

Search Engine Guide > Jill Whalen > Interview with Dan Thies, Author of 'Search Engine Fast Start'