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Interview with Laura Lippay of Yahoo

Posted on Jul 12th, 2006
Written by Lee Odden
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    Spotlight on Search Interview with Laura Lippay, SEO Program Manager for Yahoo

    We’ve been on a bit of a “Spotlight on Search Interview” hiatus the past few weeks, but I can assure you this one is worth the wait. Today we have a very nice interview with Laura Lippay, SEO Program Manager for Yahoo Media Group. I first became aware of Laura’s SEO wisdom via her animated stick figure avatar in Jill Whalen’s High Rankings SEO forum. Dispensing excellent advice to newbies and old timers alike, Laura has gone from circus performer extraordinaire to Flash-superstar-wannabe to a dream gig as an in-house SEO for Yahoo. I want to say thank you to the exceptionally thorough legal and marketing folks at Yahoo for letting Laura do this interview. Now on to the good stuff.

    Tell us about your background and how did you get involved with search marketing?

    It pretty much started off at The Linus Group which was GH Multimedia at the time. I was doing primarily Flash & web dev for our sole client-type, biotech companies. The Flash stuff didn’t last long because scientists like structure and data, so my dreams of being a Flash superstar faded and I ended up really getting into the usability and analytics side of things, and I loved it. We were morphing GH Multimedia into a marketing company at the same time, and I was managing web marketing for the company as well. And that’s where the search part came in.I especially loved the SEO/M side of things and began picking up optimization projects on the side for non-biotech companies. Eventually I left The Linus Group and did consulting in SEO and User-experience on my own. Most SEOs say they love consulting (rather than in-house) because they can sleep late and work late and not change out of their pajamas for four days (which I enjoyed too), but I hated the biz dev and self-marketing side of things and I missed having people around and ended up talking to myself a lot, so I gave up consulting and CNET took me under their wing.

    CNET was small enough that you know everybody and it was big enough that there were a lot of cool, interesting things going on. Plus CNET is right in downtown San Francisco so there is no lack of CNET happy hours, and you really get to know people by hanging out with them outside of work. Oh yeah, and it was an awesome SEO challenge.

    Then I got a call from Yahoo! and they needed someone to build SEO into the process and help build SEO into new analytics tools and that’s exactly what I do. So I now make the trek to Sunnyvale for work in addition to Santa Monica a couple days a week – and its absolutely worth it. A venture capital friend of mine said to me once that he likes to surround himself with people smarter than him, and here at Yahoo! that’s exactly what I’m doing – there’s so many smart people and smart things going on here I cant keep up with it all. There’s a heck of a lot of work to do, and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for me and I’m very excited to be a part of it.

    I see from your Y360 blog that you once worked in the circus. SEO seems like a circus sometimes. Are there any similarities?

    Actually, not at all. You can say that the ever-changing search marketing world feels like a circus sometimes, but really…we’re talking dudes in spandex flying out of a cannon versus quiet brainiacs sitting behind a computer all day. Let me just throw out a few things that come to mind from circus life & see if there really are any similarities:


    • Weirdoes from around the world
    • Living on a train
    • Flashy costumes
    • Protests
    • Accidents
    • Love circles and drama
    • Gay clowns and elephant turds

    Ok so yeah maybe there are a few similarities. There’s that SEO guy that sends poop through the mail – I think he said he ranks for the terms [revenge] and [pranks] or something. Of course you certainly have weirdoes from around the world in SEO – thank God! It would be pretty boring if we didn’t. But I don’t think there’s enough love circles and drama in SEO. Too much gossip about no follow and not enough about who the Mayers dated if you ask me.

    That SEO 101 video you did while you worked with CNET was pretty cool. Was that your idea? What other interesting methods have you used to evangelize or explain SEO?

    Most of what I do or have done in SEO is not publicized. I’ve always focused on internal education & getting SEO integrated into the process from one man shops to large corporations. But that CNET video was to be the first in a series of SEO videos – I had some other videos listed that we were going to do that would showcase a little more detail on the most important high-level SEO topics (since you technically only get 2-3 minutes). But I was whisked away by Yahoo! and so now it’s up to the new SEO guy at CNET to carry on the tradition.

    Internally, SEO education is a matter of working in with everyone involved over time. That said, there are so many great avenues for gathering your own SEO following & creating recognition for yourself: the SEO video space is wide open. The podcast space has opportunity as well – I would love to hear more podcasts on vertical topics, like interviews with people in search, or roundtables where you get a bunch of SEO’s in a room and debate technique and practices. When we all get together at conferences that’s all we talk about for hours and hours. Somebody should be recording those (hint hint WebmasterRadio ).

    So now you’re working with Yahoo. Was that a big change? Please explain what you do there. Do you get to use knowledge of Yahoo ” secret sauce ” in your job?

    It’s a huge change. Walking into the Yahoo! work space is like entering a new universe where there are mini cyber-worlds and strange machines running everywhere and 3-headed gorks walking by you and you’re just walking around in awe trying to figure it all out. I mix that view of it with my college experience where I hung out in computer labs all day and night and brainstormed ideas with my friends, and then add a touch of Hollywood for the Santa Monica trips, and there you have it.

    Unfortunately, I don’t get any secret sauce from the Search people. I have to get them drunk and hope to get secrets out of them just like everyone else.

    There’s always been some kind of debate over whether it makes sense to optimize for individual search engines, but recently there’s been more. What do you think about that?

    Bottom line: you need to optimize for what makes you money. If your target market is techno geeks and you think you tend to get more referrals from techno geeks from Google Search, then see what you can do to get more quality traffic from there. But if that takes away from your Yahoo! traffic and you end up losing more money when you lose the Yahoo! traffic than you do by your gain in Google traffic, then it’s obvious what you need to do. This is not a guessing game – all your answers are in your data.

    If there were 3-5 site optimization tips you were to recommend to web masters, what would they be?

    1. Usability comes before SEO – better yet, they should work hand in hand. But don’t compromise your user experience for SEO. Unless you’re spamming, of course.

    2. SEO isn’t just about H1 tags and title tags – more importantly, you need traffic. You need to be good enough, you need to be smart enough, and gosh darnit , people need to like you. Well, your site at least. In that respect, your client needs to see you as not just an SEO, but a strategist of sorts, and you absolutely HAVE to be a part of site building from the beginning concept stages.

    3. You can listen to what everyone else preaches about what works for SEO or you can find out for yourself. Most SEO “facts’ are just things they hear from other SEO’s which they heard from other SEO’s which they read in some article that who knows who wrote it, etc. Where are the cold hard facts? They’re in your data, people! Set up a tight analytics structure and go in and do things to your site and test the results for yourself. You’ll be the smartest (and richest) SEO on the block.

    What are some of the most common “myths about SEO tactics” that you’re running into these days?

    There always seems to be a lot of stuff going around that just doesn’t have real proof to back it up. I don’t really believe any of it until I can test it for myself. A lot of site owners, not necessarily SEO’s , seem to think that all they need to do for SEO is slap a couple of keywords in a browser title and an H1 tag on their page and they’ll see results. The lack of education of SEO’s and non- SEO’s alike is disheartening sometimes. We still have a lot of work to do on the education front.

    And inciting SEO propaganda for linkbait isn’t really helping any. All those poor novice SEO’s are going to believe crazy propaganda headlines because they don’t know any better. If you’re going to write questionable Star Magazine-type stories about SEO, be sure to have proof to back up whatever you’re end point is.

    What are some of the resources you rely on for information on SEO/SEM? Best practices, news, industry information.

    I read the SEOmoz blog almost every day. Rand and his crew bring up a lot of good questions and a wide range of topics around SEO and anything that might be remotely related to SEO and successful site marketing and development. You can tell they’re really analyzing the search industry as well as the web space in general, and thinking about what’s next. I’ve got MyYahoo as my homepage so that a few times a day headlines from the feeds pop into my view and I’ll go check them out. There’s a range of feeds there from white and black hat SEO to Silicon Valley Web & Tech events to analytics blogs to weird news. The weird news one though always throws me off – I spend half a day reading about dumb robbers and one-eyed cats instead of spending quality time analyzing people’s ideas about no-follow and who’s dating who in the Valley (you know, the important stuff) 😉 To throw a few names out, right now I’ve got Valleywag , BayChi events, SEOmoz, SEW, Occam’s Razor, Instant Cognition, Eric T. Peterson’s Analytics Blog, In Search Of Stuff, Shanth Ideas, and a bunch more.

    I also follow SD Forum Events – they have what’s called a Search SIG (Special Interest Group) every month in various places in the area, plus other really cool live forums around web 2.0-type topics and business intelligence topics. I’m a fiend for that kind of stuff.

    And my car radio was broken for over year and I commute anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week, so I find every single search or industry or tech-related podcast I can find and load it all up on my Shuffle and listen to those while I travel. I haven’t missed a single Search Engine Watch, Webmaster Radio That’s A Wrap, Webmaster Radio SEO Rockstars , or Yahoo! Power Source podcast . I put books on my podcast too, although The Wisdom Of Crowds was just too much for my Shuffle to handle evidently, so I was driving to work with my laptop on the seat and the audiobook on my iTunes , with my earphones plugged into it, taking caution while shifting or moving my right arm because I kept knocking the earphones out.You might say I’m dedicated. Or perhaps obsessed?

    If Yahoo was an animal, what would it be? And you?

    (For my fellow Neverending Story fanatics): Yahoo is kinda like Falkor flying around all over the place and surprising you with what it knows (plus the big dreamy brown eyes), and I’m kinda like the beasts at the Gate to the Southern Oracle, firing my SEO data analytics & best practices at you and making sure you pay attention. Or else 🙂

    Thanks Laura!