Joe Whyte got a chance to interview Matt Inman (aka oatmeal) at the recent SES conference in San Jose. Matt is a chief technology office at SEOmoz and is the guy behind the SEOmoz tools. He is also well-known for coming up with very creative linkbaiting campaigns (using quizzes) for his own dating site, Mingle2. Here is the full transcript of the interview.
SMS: This is Joe Whyte with Matt, better known as Oatmeal, from SEOmoz. Howa��s it going, Matt?
Matt: Ita��s going pretty well.
SMS: Cool. So Ia��ve been looking at Mingle2 quite a bit recently and ita��s starting to pick up some real tension a�� some real traffic. Something Ia��m a big fan of is all those quizzes that you give. So tell me a little bit about the reason why you build those quizzes, where you come up with these great ideas, and the results side.
Matt: Sure. When I started marketing the site, I was doing it the way Ia��ve always done it a�� which is, I was mostly going for digg bait, Top 10 articles, sensational piece articles, things like that. And I had some success with it. It was good for building my domain authority, getting it out of whatever age filter there was, because Mingle2 is a 2007 domain.
Unfortunately, linkbait in that regard doesna��t get you very well targeted in your text. You can get close a�� if youa��re trying to target fishing, you could write an article called a�?the funniest fishing videosa�? or something. But ita��s not the exact anchor text you want.
So I built a quiz called a�?how geek are you?a�? that I knew would appeal to bloggers and geek enthusiasts a�� people who have the ability to make links. And I just kind of built it as a test and it got huge. It got tens of thousands of takers and so I instantly saw an opportunity where I could essentially rank for any term I wanted with viral badges, quizzes, and things like that. So from there I started building a bunch of others.
I built one a�� the next one I built was how many HTML elements can you name in 5 minutes. And that one fell flat on its face because thata��s really hard to do and no one can do that. So I started getting pretty creative with it. I tried to appeal to peoplea��s vanity with a�?how x are you?a�? a�?how this are you?a�?
One of the ones that was hugely successful a�� and was great because I built it in about an hour and a half a�� was a widget called a�?whata��s my blog rating?a�? You entered your blog URL and it comes back with MPAA rating such as R or PG-13. Ita��s really simple. All it does is it goes to your blog and it finds out how many words there are like cusswords, words like a�?murdera�? or a�?explosion,a�? words that would be indicative of an R-rated film. People can then post a�?my blog is rated PG-13a�? or a�?my blog is rated R.a�? With this thing a�� people took this quiz, like, tens of thousands of people. All with the anchor text all pointing right at my home page.
So, three months out of the gate I was ranking for a�?free online dating.a�? That was the target I targeted first because a�?online datinga�? a�� I actually didna��t think I could do that. I thought it was a little too overwhelming. So I thought, well, Ia��ll start with a�?free online datinga�? which is less competitive.
SMS: To be able to rank for such a keyword thata��s so competitive is amazing. a�?Online datinga�? a�� youa��d only think an authority site thata��s been around for a long time could do something like that. So ita��s a really interesting technique that youa��ve been able to master.
Matt: Yeah. Ita��s cool to show people too, because I see so many SEOs complaining about a�?oh, my domain is not holding upa�? or a�?Ia��m in the sandboxa�? or whatever you want to call it. And I go, I have a domain that I registered six months ago thata��s ranking for very, very competitive terms.
It just goes to show that Google has all these signals it uses to rank pages a�� age is one of them, relevance a�� but of all those signals there is one you can control and one you can overpower every other signal with, and thata��s links a�� the sheer volume of links. And so after accruing 80,000 links to the site, thata��s how I was able to make that.
SMS: And that was in 3 months time that you did that?
Matt: I did. I think for a�?free online datinga�? it was after three months. And then a�?online datinga�? was about a month later. In the past six weeks, my schedule has been crazy so I havena��t been able to do as much viral link bait. But Ia��ve started to rank for every city in America plus the word a�?singlesa�? a�� so, a�?Los Angeles singlesa�? I think Ia��m number two. Houston, Chicago.
SMS: So obviously youa��re creating different pages to support these different keywords, right?
Matt: Yes. Theya��re not going to the home page. I set up specific geo-targeted pages. So basically any time a user signs up and they enter their city name, actually they get filed into a specific page for that name. So if they have a very specific town a�� small and in the middle of nowhere a�� and I search for that town and the word a�?singles,a�? typically I show up in the top 10.
SMS: Wow. Pretty amazing.
Matt: Yeah. So therea��s a linkbait strategy there a�� a link strategy a�� that is also an internal site architecture strategy that allows the site to be indexed and well-received by the engines.
SMS: And ita��s really important to be able to a�� as an SEO a�� to be able to constantly think outside the box because with the different filters and the different a�� like, for instance, Matt Cutts says, a�?dona��t do reciprocal linking now. Wea��re going to start having people report page linksa�? etc., and ita��s just becoming increasingly more difficult to utilize these old-rule tactics. You know, going out and getting a bunch of forum links or doing article syndication is not as effective as what can be done these days.
Matt: Yeah. And I dona��t understand. I get those reciprocal link emails all the time.
SMS: Yeah, me too and ita��s horrible.
Matt: Me, I just dona��t understand the strategy there. It just seems so one at a time. Therea��s not a lot of a�� it just seems a really simple a��
SMS: Whoa��s going to respond to that? And if they do, what kind of site is that going to be anyway thata��s going to respond to something like that?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, leveraging social media is definitely the way to go right now. And the important thing to remember, too, is that in a year or two, that may not even be the case. We have to continually keep being creative.
SMS: Right. So, what else do you do? After you build this quiz, how are you going to leverage it? Do you kind of just let it be or do you a�� what are the target sites that you go after?
Matt: Right now, the quiz page itself that has all my quizzes and gadgets and viral stuff has a huge audience of people that have already linked to it. LiveJournal is actually a huge source of traffic for me, because it gets spread across hundred of thousands of these live journals. So if I launch a quiz right now, it almost has a pre-built audience, so thata��s an advantage.
Initially though, what really helps with it was a�� I tried marketing quizzes to digg. Unfortunately, they got buried. Digg will bury anything from Mingle2 at this point.
SMS: They have a tendency to do stuff like that, especially with corporate sites and sites that are more commercial.
Matt: They do. Yeah. So thata��s why Ia��ve kind of toned down my digg marketing, just because ita��s not as effective. Ita��s so night and day, unlike something like StumbleUpon where everybody loves that site. Everybody is traffic, and ita��s great. Ita��s so unpredictable too. One day youa��ll submit something to StumbleUpon. Youa��ll get a little trickle of traffic and then ita��ll go away. And youa��ll be very sad. And then a month will go by and ita��ll be BOOM! And youa��ll get a huge surge out of nowhere. I dona��t get what makes things rise and fall, but StumbleUpon is a huge part of the traffic as well.
SMS: Cool. And to just kind of wrap it up, something that I really like that youa��ve done is after you take the quizzes a�� you did the how much is your body worth?
Matt: The cadaver calculator.
SMS: Good advertising.
Matt: Yeah. That was awesome. That was on USA Todaya��s blog. That was on MSNBC.
SMS: That was amazing. I loved that thing. And then you did a�� what was the other one? It was on zombies?
Matt: What are your chances of surviving a zombie attack?
SMS: Yeah. The zombie attack.
Matt: Yeah. The best advice I can give someone is just to be creative with it and try it. I was thinking about myself and what am I into? What would be a quiz or a viral widget that I would want to take that would be fun?
SMS: It seemed like that when you did that, there were a lot of zombie movies coming out at the same time.
Matt: Yeah. 28 Weeks Later.
SMS: 28 Weeks Later came out. And then Ia��m just thinking that this guya��s really smart because hea��s kind of feeding off of the buzz thata��s already been created by the movie. So at the end you get this badge and the people a�� how successful is that campaign? How many people actually put that badge on their site?
Matt: The zombie badge?
SMS: Well, any badges that come off of the quizzes.
Matt: Usually between 4 and 6 thousand.
Matt: Ita��s a hard metric to gauge because I use the site numbers and I use technorati to see what fresh ones are coming in. But typically each badge gets between 4 and 6 thousand backlinks.
SMS: And is that all in one push or does it continue to grow.
Matt: It continues to grow. And thata��s whata��s great about the strategy too is Ia��m not actively link building. Right now, as Ia��m sitting here talking to you, people are taking my quiz and building links for me. Ita��s just self-perpetuating.
SMS: Aaron Wall has quoted this term I think as self-reinforcing authority. Thata��s what youa��ve done for yourself, and youa��ve done a great job.
Matt: Thank you.
SMS: Well, thanks a lot, Matt. I really appreciate you stopping by.